New Government must Address Potential Dairy Industry Labour Crisis

Boris Johnson has appointed a brand new cabinet that sees Theresa Villiers take up the position of Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, someone who has previously said she would support a no-deal Brexit. 

Regardless of Mr Johnson’s chosen cabinet we know that he is a devout leave campaigner and has said on more than one occasion that we will leave the European Union ‘come what may’ on 31 October. 

Milking Cows

The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers has declared that the new PM and his cabinet must consider the drastic implications leaving the EU without a deal could have on our already strained overseas labour network. 

Despite efforts from ourselves and other farming organisations, the Migration Advisory Committee and Defra continue to ignore the staffing crisis facing the dairy industry when instead they should be looking, in depth, at the scale of concern for permanent staff and definition of skills and skilled workers required on dairy farms.

Previous work we have carried out concludes that EU-labour is making a significant contribution to dairy businesses with farms becoming more reliant on overseas labour with 56% of respondents (2016) employing staff from outside the UK in the last five years compared with just 32% in 2014.

Government must also realise that these gaps won’t be filled by British workers – when we surveyed 2,000 UK adults only 4% were willing to consider job roles on a dairy farm.  The main reasons for not considering a job in the sector were the unsocial hours, rural location and working with machinery and animals.

A further survey commissioned by RABDF and carried out by Ian Potter Associates in 2017 showed that the 1,000 dairy farms surveyed produce over 2.23 billion litres of milk – 15% of the UK’s overall annual volume – and have between them nearly 270,000 cows.  Almost 17% of these dairy businesses have foreign workers within their workforce and more than half of these non-UK workers are in skilled positions of herdsmen or herd managers.

RABDF managing director Matthew Knight says:
“Labour issues have shot to the top of the list of challenges for many dairy farms after the Brexit referendum and it is clear a very significant proportion of our milk is dependent on foreign workers – over a quarter of farmers say they have significant or intense problems recruiting making it one of the key limiting factors to growth, and to the effective operation of dairy farms. 

“This is only going to continue with Brexit and could have catastrophic results if we leave the EU without a deal.  The ready and steady supply of skilled, dedicated foreign workers is critical to the success of the sector, and to its long-term prosperity.  With this in mind the Government must consider the issue as a matter of urgency and work together with the industry to avoid what will otherwise be a ‘cliff-edge’ shortage of labour in the near future.”

The RABDF are therefore urgently calling on the Migration Advisory Committee to review the need for dairy herdsman to be added to the Shortage Occupation List, a list that consists of critical jobs in short supply.  Herdsmen play a vital role in the dairy industry and must be recognised as having a pivotal role when it comes to the prosperity and success of the British dairy sector.  It is astounding that roles like this can be excluded from the SOL when others such as artists and dance choreographers are included, which in itself demonstrates the need for immediate action on the matter.


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