Political Affairs Manager's Blog - 26 June 2020

A major change for employment into both temporary and permanent roles in Scottish agriculture is coming writes Political Affairs Manager Clare Slipper.

The Union has just made its latest submission to the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) after hundreds of members responded to its recent employment and wages survey, highlighting how crucial an issue labour is to the sector.

In January 2021, the UK Government will end the free movement of people from the EU and will implement a new points-based system of immigration.

It is fair to say that the UK Government’s proposed points-based system has been a point of contention not just for NFU Scotland members, but for the wider business community too.

From 2021, the new system will require all employers of individuals coming to work in the UK for the first time to become sponsors, and will prescribe points to individuals based on the following criteria:

  • That the job is classified at an appropriate skill level, which is defined as RQF3 or above. This is equivalent to a Scottish Higher, or a Modern Apprenticeship.
  • That the candidate speaks English at a required level.
  • That the role pays a salary of £25,600 or above.
  • If the job is deemed to be in shortage, as designated by the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), applicants will be eligible for further points. Jobs that are on the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) will also be eligible for a lower salary threshold, of minimum £20,480.

NFU Scotland has always been vehemently opposed to the use of skill and salary thresholds – tools which we consider to be entirely arbitrary and not reflective of the labour-market situation in Scotland or the rural economy.

Whilst the skills and salary thresholds within the new points-based system remain relatively inflexible, the use of the SOL becomes incredibly important for our sector. An expanded SOL could be the only tool available to ensure that agricultural businesses can continue employing competent and enthusiastic individuals from overseas into jobs on-farm and off-farm.

This week, NFU Scotland submitted a response to the MAC’s consultation on the SOL, informed by our Employment and Wages Survey which hundreds of you responded to throughout May and June.

The three criteria which the MAC consider before recommending an occupation is added to the SOL are whether there is evidence to prove that the role itself is in shortage; whether it meets the required skill level; and whether it is ‘sensible’ to add the role to the list.

In terms of proving shortage, we have evidence in abundance. For decades, members have reported difficulties in filling vacancies from the domestic population, particularly as Scottish agricultural businesses modernise and innovate. In more recent years too, members have reported issues with recruiting from the European Economic Area (EAA) due to the sustained squeeze in the exchange rate, and a perceived ‘hostile environment’ to immigration into the UK.

Skills in farm-based businesses, we believe, can also be proven in abundance. Agriculture by its very nature is manually skilled. Member responses to our survey outlined that most vacancies on Scottish farms are filled by individuals who have prior experience, a work-based qualification, and most importantly, a good attitude towards upskilling. We have argued strongly to ensure that manual skills, in-work training and upskilling are accounted for when adding occupations to the SOL.

The ‘sensible’ criteria are slightly more subjective. However, again, making these arguments on behalf of Scottish agriculture is quite simple. Without workers in agriculture and the food and drink supply chain, there is no food and drink. This public value cannot be underestimated.

Early on within the COVID-19 crisis, our workers and those in the wider food industry were identified as key workers and specifically called upon by both the Scottish and UK Governments to continue in our work of putting produce on the shelves. Pair this with Scotland’s demographic challenges in rural areas and a fall in the working-age population, and it is clear that there is a role for immigration policy to encourage workers from overseas into vacancies that are hard-to-fill domestically.

The MAC will deliver its advice to the UK Government in September, and NFU Scotland will continue to use every opportunity to engage the MAC on this important topic.

We are very grateful to members who responded to our Employment and Wages Survey. Your views are essential to us putting forth the strongest case on your behalf. Following the success of this inaugural Survey, we plan to do similar work next year to ensure NFU Scotland’s campaigning on these important topics stays fresh and informed.

Finally, to celebrate the fine Scottish produce in which our agricultural workers are so intrinsic in producing, we are excited to present one lucky Survey respondent with a hamper of Scottish produce following our random prize draw. Watch this space for further details!

Author: Clare Slipper

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About The Author

Clare Slipper

Clare Slipper joined NFU Scotland in 2014 as the Union’s first dedicated Parliamentary Officer. Within her role, Clare briefs politicians in the Scottish, Westminster and European parliaments on key issues impacting Scottish food producers and represents members interests in the policy-making process. Clare started her career working for a public affairs and communications agency, where she worked with clients in the renewable energy and planning sectors. She graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in Politics and Sociology in 2012.

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