The final report into migration from the European Economic Area, published last month by Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), has been heavily criticised by the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) for letting down the myriad of UK industries which rely on skilled manual EU workers, of which dairy farming is one.
The MAC’s call for evidence gained over 400 responses, including a comprehensive submission from the RABDF, alongside the NFU. However the organisation says the key role played by stockpeople and herd and dairy farm managers from the EU, who fit between manual and highly skilled in their training and abilities, has been ignored.
RABDF policy director Tim Brigstocke says many EU nationals currently working in the UK fall into this skills ‘gap’, and fill roles in many industries – including dairying – which British workers simply do not want to take up.
Mr Brigstocke explains: “The problem is particularly acute in England and while it is encouraging that the MAC recognises the need for a scheme for seasonal fruit pickers, for example, to avoid fruit sitting ‘unpicked and rotting on trees’, we believe there is failure to appreciate a much bigger and long term problem in other sectors.”
He says he’s concerned the MAC could be banking on the fact that farmers won’t allow a lack of labour in the dairy sector to result in cows ‘going unmilked or unmanaged’ in the same way. “But the more likely outcome is unbearable strain on those dairy farmers who are short of labour, leading to more farms ceasing production and possible mental health challenges for those remaining in business.
“This is why this issue is a huge concern for our sector. Demand for milk and dairy products remains strong in the UK, so we risk undermining our own industry with its high standards and high productivity, and instead supplying our markets from abroad with milk produced under different regimes but using those very workers we have no access to.”
The RABDF has carried out several surveys since 2014 looking at access to overseas labour. Farmers have reported increasing issues recruiting labour; in 2014 results showed 40% of farms had encountered difficulty with staff recruitment, by 2016 this number had risen to 51%, proof that a lack of access to skilled labour could be disastrous to many UK dairy farms.
A survey of the British public in 2016 indicates that British nationals will not fill this gap as they are largely unwilling to work in the industry for reasons ranging from unsocial hours to rural locations and not wanting to work with animals or machinery.
An evaluation of these survey results can be accessed online at www.rabdf.co.uk/labour