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The British farming community, under pressure

Labour Shortfall Could Create New Risks Down on the Farm

Apr 2020

The British farming community, under pressure to deliver the UK’s fruit and vegetable harvest this year, due to lack of manpower for the picking and packing of the crops, is running a recruitment drive that will see inexperienced workers taken on to fill the gap.

With an estimated 70,000 (many from overseas), who normally harvest the crops[1], not able to travel, three recruitment agencies are operating a ‘Feed the Nation’ campaign, seeking a new “land army”.[2]

As Environment Secretary, George Eustice, says, “We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill the gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months. I would encourage as many people as possible to sign up.”

With the annual May asparagus harvest looming, there are fears that food may not reach the consumer. One major independent salad producing organisation alone, G’s Growers, has 2500 vacancies – a worrying manpower shortage with spring salad crops also on the horizon.

The three recruitment agencies, Concordia, HOPS Labour Solutions and Fruitful[3], have covered the employment needs of 500 farms so far.  Nearly 90% of the first 10,000 workers recruited are British and less than a third have any experience in agriculture.

The hope is that students, freed of study duties due to Covid-19, and laid-off hospitality sector workers, may step in.  According to the Chairman of British Summer Fruits, Nick Marsden, jobs are “large and varied”. 

HOPS Labour Solutions says applicants will receive training but there are many risks involved with farm work, particularly if workers are harvesting fruit at height, using farm equipment, or carrying out manual tasks such as picking by hand, which could cause back strain.

Farmers should check their employee liability insurance cover is robust and check what training is required to keep temporary workers compliant with health and safety legislation.

Additional insurance cover to consider, given this year’s unique circumstances, could be management liability protection.  This covers the legal expenses of an individual, such as a director, owner or manager, who could be held responsible for any accident or fatality in a business.  In the event of an accident, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) could suggest such an individual had not provided the right level of training and supervision or had allowed a situation that presented a risk to go unnoticed or remain unaddressed. Such a charge could result in a costly legal case, so the right protection is required.

Before taking on new staff, farmers should check their insurance cover is up to date and discuss whether it needs extending.  Ensuring that the farm’s risk assessment is current, and that any actions specified as needing attention have been taken, is also key.  

2020 will be like no other farming year in living memory for many.  If you need a risk management expert to guide you through the covers you require, please use our ‘Find a Local Broker’ tool.