Bakery sector needs unskilled workers, says FDF

Bakery sector needs unskilled workers, says FDF

The UK's Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has highlighted a number of concerns after the country's government announced plans for a new points-based immigration system, which bars non-skilled workers.

While describing the plans as a "significant improvement on previous proposals for skilled workers," Mark Harrison, policy manager (employment & access to labour) at the organisation representing food manufacturers, said the system could create a shortage of essential workers in the food industry.

Announcing the new immigration system proposals today (19 February), Home Secretary Priti Patel suggested the new system - which takes effect from 1 January next year - will "open up the UK to the brightest and the best from around the world."

It will assign points for specific skills, qualifications, salaries or professions and visas will only be awarded to those who gain enough points.

There will be no specific route for low-skilled workers but the seasonal workers pilot scheme will be expanded in time for the 2020 harvest from 2,500 to 10,000 places, responding to the specific temporary requirements of the agricultural sector.

Patel said: "The points threshold will be carefully set to attract the talent the UK needs. Skilled workers will need to meet a number of relevant criteria, including specific skills and the ability to speak English, to be able to work in the UK. All applicants will be required to have a job offer and, in line with the Migration Advisory Committee's (MAC) recommendations, the minimum salary threshold will be set at GBP25,600 (US$33,259).

"The new points-based system will also expand the skills threshold for skilled workers. Those looking to live and work in the UK will now need to be qualified up to A level or equivalent, rather than degree level under the current system. This will provide greater flexibility and ensure UK business has access to a wide pool of skilled workers."

The FDF's Harrison said: "FDF and its members will welcome the introduction of a global talent route, and the reduction of the skilled worker salary threshold is a step in the right direction." 

However, he added: "The food and drink industry is reliant on workers at all skill levels. We have concerns about access to those potential employees who won't qualify through these 'skilled' routes such as bakery assistants, meat processors, and workers essential to the production of a huge array of basic foodstuffs such as cheese, pasta, and sausages. 

"While we are committed to promoting the use of automation and technology in our sector, the benefits of such innovations will not be felt overnight and some food chain roles remain challenging to automate. 

"With the UK experiencing historically low unemployment rates and high vacancy levels, we believe a route for entry-level workers should be introduced which retains control of immigration while also supporting business needs, incentivising up-skilling, and boosting productivity."