Many farmers have seen significant struggles to recruit seasonal workers in recent years, due to long-standing issues combined with a labour shortage triggered by Brexit, the Covid-19 pandemic, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Last year, the National Farmers’ Union warned that as much as £60m worth of food had been wasted due to the labour shortages, with farms missing out on 14% of the workforce they needed. As a result, Sky News reported that this was pushing food inflation as high as 20%.
High employment levels in the UK and a shortfall in the overall number of seasonal worker visas granted by the Home Office, as well as delays in processing those visas, have been blamed for the recruitment issues. This was made worse by a collapse in the number of Ukrainian workers travelling to the UK following the Russian invasion.
An NFU survey found that fewer than 4% of seasonal workers come from the UK, with more than two-thirds coming via the seasonal worker's scheme. This is because those permanently living here and seeking work do not live close to farms and may find it difficult to move for seasonal work or live in temporary accommodation.
At Duncan & Toplis, we’re here to help. With our expert knowledge and experience, we can help you to manage your seasonal staff to reduce your risk of crop wastage and loss of profits.
While many of the causes of the seasonal worker shortage go far beyond the industry’s control, the best advice is to ensure that you’re doing everything you can to recruit and retain seasonal workers and maximise their productivity.
Seasonal workers tend to be employed on a casual, short-term basis, meaning that employment relationships are usually informal and rely largely on trust between the two parties, and this is a vulnerability.
Our advice would be to always form written agreements, which are signed by both parties, to avoid any legal disputes and unexpected liabilities. By forming a contract with seasonal workers, you can mitigate the risk of any future uncertainties or disagreements regarding their working terms.
Depending on your business requirements, seasonal workers can be classed as a worker, employee, or self-employed contractor. The majority of agricultural firms typically use the term ‘worker’, as this implies a more casual agreement. The individual receives some rights, but are not given guarantees of regular work - meaning that it’s a much more flexible agreement. Nonetheless, it’s important to have a contract in place to protect both parties throughout the duration of employment.
Seasonal workers are typically either on a fixed-term contract, part-time basis, or zero-hours contract - so make sure that this is clearly outlined to manage expectations and remain transparent.
The nature of farm work means that workers sometimes will need to complete intensive hours, due to the time-sensitive nature of agricultural operations.
However, it’s important to always agree on working time regulations - which state that workers cannot work more than a 48-hour working week on average (calculated over a 17-week period). As there is a significant risk of these regulations being exceeded at certain times, make sure to have a signed agreement in place that ensures workers are happy to exceed this in certain circumstances - ensuring both parties are on the same page from the beginning.
Other rights also include 20-minute rest breaks after six hours and an 11-hour rest between working shifts. By abiding by these rules, you’re more likely to retain seasonal workers each year - as they know they’re coming back to a fair employer. With workers becoming more difficult to attract, this is key for staff retainment.
Accommodation arrangements are also important to cover in farming employment relationships and should be covered in contracts.
Many farmers will provide accommodation at their property for workers to live in, whilst completing their duties. It’s important to record all of these arrangements in writing to avoid any disputes or uncertainties between both parties once the employment relationship comes to an end.
The quality of the accommodation can have a direct impact on workers’ productivity and their likelihood of returning in the future, and accommodation must meet the required standards. It is also important to seek professional advice to ensure that your workers’ rights are protected whilst staying in your accommodation.
If you would like more information, guidance, or support on any matters related to seasonal workers, please get in touch with our experienced team.