New Farm Risks Could Surround ‘Rookie’ Workers

28/07/20 General

A recruitment drive is underway so that a new land army can bring home the harvest in 2020.

Coronavirus restrictions have put British farmers under pressure to pick and pack fruit and vegetable crops, due to a manpower shortage.

Normally, the country would have already attracted an estimated 70,000 overseas workers for the annual crop-harvesting task[1], but many of these are currently unable to travel to the UK.  This has led three recruitment agencies to launch a ‘Feed the Nation’ campaign, as they seek to put a new “land army” together.[2]

George Eustice, the UK’s Environment Secretary has said, “We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that 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.”[3]

Asparagus – in season in May – is one of the first crops due to be harvested and being able to do that is a concern for vegetable growers.  Around 2500 vacancies have been advertised with one major independent salad producing organisation alone – G’s Growers.  With a raft of spring salad crops on the horizon, the manpower shortage is a major headache.

Concordia, HOPS Labour Solutions and Fruitful[4], the three recruitment agencies charged with finding workers, managed to cover the needs of 500 farms at the start of their campaign.   Nine-out-of-ten of the first 10,000 workers recruited are British but only around three-in-ten have any agricultural experience.

Jobs are said to be “large and varied” in the words of Nick Marsden, Chairman of British Summer Fruits, who hopes to recruit students and laid-off hospitality sector workers.

Training will be provided, according to HOPS Labour Solutions and this will be vital, given the risks that typically surround farm work and tasks involving working at height, operating farm equipment and possible back strain, whilst picking fruit and harvesting vegetables.

Robust employee liability insurance cover will be an essential level of protection for farmers and all workers, including temporary hires, must be kept safe through thorough training. Overlooking compliance in a rush to bring the harvest home is not an option.

Management liability protection could be a new insurance cover to consider, as it covers the legal expenses of an individual, such as a director, owner or manager, deemed liable for a work accident or fatality.  An individual could be deemed to have not provided the right level of training and supervision to an employee or may be accused of allowing a work risk to go stay unaddressed. Such allegations can lead to expensive legal cases, which hit the pocket if no insurance is in place to pick up the tab.

Prior to recruiting workers this spring, farmers should analyse their insurance cover and assess whether it addresses current requirements.  The farm’s risk assessment should also be reviewed and checks made to ensure that required actions from previous assessments have been taken.

The farming year in spring and summer 2020 will be like no other in recent times and you may need specialist help to navigate the insurances required.  If that is the case, please get in touch.

Sources:

[1] https://metro.co.uk/2020/03/20/farming-industry-urgently-needs-workers-feed-uk-amid-coronavirus-crisis-12431841/
[2]  https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/25/uk-farmers-fear-huge-labour-shortfall-despite-interest-in-land-army
[3]  https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/04/17/fruit-picking-jobs-rejected-nearly-85-per-cent-british-workers/
https://www.edp24.co.uk/business/farming/cla-calls-for-a-new-land-army-on-farms-to-fill-gaps-left-by-migrant-workers-1-6574533