National Recruitment specialist Pro-Force has been selected to pilot an innovative new Seasonal Workers Pilot (SWP) for Government, as part of plans to ensure the UK has enough labour to harvest the £1.5 billion worth of fruit and vegetables it grows each year.
Chief executive Matt Jarrett said Pro-Force’s selection as one of two operators running the two-year pilot is testament to its efforts within the recruitment industry to work on improvements that protect workers from the dangers of modern day slavery and other labour abuses.
He said the National Farmers Union had calculated that between 70,000 and 80,000 seasonal workers are need each year to harvest fresh produce in the UK, but that some 13% of positions went unfilled last year.
“Rising incomes within the EU, unfavourable exchange rates and recent uncertainty over the future have combined to make the UK a far less attractive destination for unskilled workers,” he explained. “This has had a direct impact on our fresh produce growers, impairing their ability pick produce and remain competitive in the international market.
“This pilot is aimed at addressing such shortfalls, attracting and managing workers from outside of the EU during the period before Brexit, while labour is still available from Europe.”
Mr Jarrett said that the Pro-Force proposals, accepted by the Defra and Home Office, had to clearly demonstrate how workers would be protected, migration managed and efficiencies maximised.
Ethical standards were a major part of the application, focusing particularly on quality of accommodation and processes so that any concerns from workers could be easily raised and quickly addressed.
“It has been a very thorough selection process, but these are strong areas for us. Over recent years we’ve been actively involved in developing new industry standards, working closely with the major retailers, the Fresh Produce Consortium, and The Association of Labour Providers.
“This has led to robust systems being implemented within Pro-Force to safeguard standards. Of particular importance are accommodation standards and ensuring that worker fees – where the worker pays to secure work – are abolished from our supply chains.
Mr Jarrett added: “Whilst the pilot only allows a limited number of visas – 2,500 in total – it will reach across England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. The ultimate aim of the scheme is to provide Government with the representative data and foundations for making informed decisions on how to potentially design a larger scheme beyond the two-year pilot.
“We look forward to working with Defra, the Home office and employers in the coming years to deliver a successful scheme.”
The development was also welcomed by the UK’s Association of Labour Providers (ALP), with chief executive David Camp saying he was pleased to see the progress made so far with the Seasonal Workers Pilot.
“Our labour supply surveys contributed to the overwhelming evidence data for the need to access new labour markets and the ALP made a strong case for a model seasonal workers scheme that was best delivered by labour providers and which protected the interests of the workers,” said Mr Camp.
“The Government’s focus on addressing modern slavery and other risks to workers’ welfare are welcome features of the Pilot. The ALP looks forward to supporting our members during the pilot and in seeing the scheme expand to address the scale of labour shortages faced by our industry.”
Workers or employers interested in finding out more about Pro-Force’s Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme should visit www.pro-force.co.uk