Dairy farmers group slams UK government immigration proposals

By Jim Cornall

- Last updated on GMT

RABDF and the NFU both expressed concerns over the new immigration policy.
RABDF and the NFU both expressed concerns over the new immigration policy.

Related tags Uk Dairy NFU

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) is calling on the Government to amend its decision not to include dairy workers on the MAC shortage occupation list following the announcement of a new points-based immigration system.

The charity is in the process of coordinating an industry working group to highlight to Government the impact the new immigration rules will have.

Taking effect from January 1, 2021, the new points-based system will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions and visas giving priority to those with the ‘highest skills and greatest talents’.

RABDF said it fears the dairy industry will be left with a severe labor shortage because the government does not class dairy workers as ‘highly skilled’ and they have not been included on the MAC shortage occupation list.

A survey by RABDF in 2016 found more than half of respondents employed staff from outside of the UK in the last five years – a 24% increase on 2014. Almost two-thirds said this was due to insufficient UK staff being available.

In the same survey, more than 50% of migrant workers on dairy farms were classed as highly skilled or mainly highly skilled – something the RABDF said the UK government fails to recognize. 

RABDF believes it will be the larger dairy operators most affected as they tend to rely more heavily on skilled, migrant labor.

RABDF policy director, Tim Brigstocke said, “Migrant workers have a huge range of skills that are core to the running of dairy farm businesses, from operating high-tech computers to ensuring optimum cow health and welfare. Although they have the skills needed on the farm whether they can demonstrate them with ‘a level equivalent qualifications’ is a different matter.

“In the 30 years I have been presenting evidence to Government this is the first time, when talking about labor, they don’t believe a word we are telling them. This is a huge worry.”

RABDF council member and former chairman, Mike King, runs a herd of 700 cows in south Gloucestershire and has a workforce made up of 70% of migrant labor. He is already seeing a labour shortage.

“In the last six months, there has been a gradual deterioration in the number of candidates applying for job positions and the vacancies are getting high. We have been running adverts with no applications regardless of the rate of pay,”​ King said.

“We had hoped the announcement on the salary threshold would be beneficial but the focus towards the skills angle and with dairying not classed as a skill and not listed on the MAC list is a worry.”

 King said home secretary Priti Patel’s message to fill the labor gap by investing in training ‘economically inactive’ people and using technology was misplaced and not the answer.

He added, “Robots may have their place, but they do not remove the need for labor. If we had robots on our farm, we would need to have more staff on call than we do now to deal with the breakdowns and problems that arise. Technology on farms will never replace the individual.”

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) also expressed concern.

NFU president Minette Batters said, “As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, British food and farming is at the very core of our economy and any immigration policy must deliver for its needs.

“We have said repeatedly that for farm businesses it is about having the full range of skills needed – from pickers and packers to meat processors and vets – if we are to continue to deliver high quality, affordable food for the public. Failure to provide an entry route for these jobs will severely impact the farming sector.

“Automation will have a vital role to play and we fully support investment in this area, but it is not yet a viable option to replace the number of people we need and farmers will need a practical solution in the meantime. There are also some jobs that simply cannot be replaced by technology.”

Batters said it was “ironic that the government on the one hand is encouraging more people to increase the amount of fruit and veg in diets, yet on the other hand making it harder for that fruit and veg to be produced in Britain.”​