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4 months ago by Debbie Lloyd

UK Labour Shortages Factsheet

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In October 2014, NFU Regional Director William White said “labour may rival weather as the biggest challenge to growers in the future.” Over the last few years, his words have proved increasingly correct.

The Statistics

UK unemployment stands at 4% in September 2018 - the lowest levels of unemployment since 1975. Across the EU unemployment is also falling (Germany 3.4%, Poland 3.7%, Romania 4.5%).

Research for the 2018 season shows the following:

  • 41% of producers have seen a drop in applications for seasonal pickers (EAP)
  • 42% of temp/seasonal employers couldn’t fill all their requirements (REC)
  • 2 in 10,000 picking applications British (Concordia)
  • Hundreds of tonnes of produce rotting in fields

Feedback from ALP Associate Members (Labour Users) tells us:

  • the volume of returners dropping by a third or more
  • labour users are having to invest heavily in accommodation and transport 
  • worker experience is a top priority for labour providers and labour users to be able to survive
  • 66% of labour providers have seen a drop in volume of labour; 71% report a drop in quality 
  • 83% of labour providers have short supplied their clients in the 3 months to September 2018

The facts speak for themselves; labour is harder to find and more expensive to supply. For labour providers and labour users alike.

The Brexit Effect

The UK’s vote to leave the EU has had a number of effects on labour supply:

  • The value of the £GBP has fallen, making working in the UK less attractive to migrant workers
  • Some EU workers have felt ‘less welcome’ as the referendum was explained by many as a reaction against foreign workers
  • As the future immigration policy of the UK is unclear, many EU workers have experienced uncertainty about their future working in the UK
  • Many other EU economies are flourishing and the relative value of the Euro against the £GBP is making other EU countries (such as Germany) more attractive 


Local Labour Supply

The statistics above are based on the national picture, and it is important to remember that at a regional level, the problems can be much worse.  

In Herefordshire, there are 4 large soft fruit farms need c.3,400 seasonal staff, but there are only 769 registered jobseekers in the area. One of the fruit farms had to send 100 bins of apples for juice instead of eating, at one fifth the price, purely because they didn’t have the workers to harvest in time.

In Cornwall, recent research found that after the Brexit vote recruitment immediately became more difficult for horticultural farms, harvests could not be lifted in full, and staffing requirements dwindled to 65% of need. Food is literally rotting in the fields.
How much do you know about your local labour market?

What’s the Answer?

The ALP is lobbying for a Seasonal Workers Scheme, and a sensible UK immigration policy that supports UK businesses, and many other industry bodies are supporting this approach.

At a site level, there are various things you can do to influence the future of the UK labour market:

  • Contact your MP – invite them to your site to discuss the issues you are facing
  • Respond to Government and other industry surveys – help build the business case
  • Write to the Defra Access to Labour Team and the Home Office Immigration Minister
  • Speak to the media and tell your story

In the meantime, however, our best advice is that labour providers and labour users need to work in partnership to overcome the challenges their businesses are both facing.  From regular planning meetings and accurate forecasting to creating a positive worker experience (from recruitment through onboarding and beyond) that will lead to high referral rates and better retention rates, the best results can only be achieved by working together.