The Horticultural Trades Association (HTA) has called for an extension to the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme (SWP) to include plant and tree growers to support the industry in the short term, as longer-term solutions to the labour crisis in the sector are developed.
Responding to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s call for evidence, the HTA outlined how a shortage of 1,200 seasonal full-time equivalents is hampering the industry’s ability not only to expand and increase UK production post-Brexit, but to simply produce the trees and plants needed now to support environmental goals. This includes playing a crucial role in tackling climate change and carbon reduction.
James Clark, director of policy and communications at the HTA, said: “Horticulture’s seasonal nature means that growers have always relied upon a significant number of temporary workers at different points in the year. As an industry we are doing everything we can to attract and retain not only local seasonal labour and develop them where appropriate, but also high skilled permanent employees. The industry has recently launched a growth strategy which includes commitments to continue to make horticulture an attractive sector to work in, but these measures will take time. We need a change now of the government’s seasonal workers policy.
“The new immigration system has led to significant shortages of seasonal staff because the SWP only applies to workers picking edible crops. Seasonal workers in the farming sector usually work multiple farms in a season, moving between ornamentals and edibles sites. Likewise, many British growers produce both edible and ornamental crops from the same site. Allowing those workers to work for plant and tree growers under the scheme will make a small change in policy, but a significant difference to the shortages our members are facing.
“Our members, most of whom are small and medium sized businesses, tell us they are short of some 1,200 FTE seasonal staff, with an average shortfall of 14% across the industry of what they have and what they need. This lack of staff impacts their business’ productivity and ability to grow.
“The Government should expand the SWP to include ornamental horticulture or create a new scheme to better reflect the broader nature of the sector’s seasonal labour needs. A modest increase in the number of actual new visas needed (as many of these workers will already be travelling to the country under the SWP to work on edible farms), will alleviate the immediate pressures being faced by the industry. We will continue to work with the Government and education providers on addressing workforce shortages over the medium and long term.”