Written evidence submitted by Masstock Arable (UK) Ltd t/a Agrii (LS0003)
There are about 18% vacancies and despite trying to fill these for last 3-4 months Agrii have been unable to. There are insufficient people available for short-term employment (approx. 10 weeks). Those that were found either left for a permanent role or decided to leave for ‘a less demanding role’.
Annual review of salaries took place in August resulting in increases (just below inflation) but for drivers there has been an exceptional pay-award of between 5% and 20% (differing by role and geography) with an average of over 8% additional increase.
Seed production has been severely compromised by the inability to fill 10 seasonal roles; the impact of this has been compounded by lack of driver resource meaning that in a year that already had a late start because of the weather we are even further behind. The impact could well be that for the third year in a row winter drilling will be well down on grower’s targets with a corresponding impact on Autumn ’22 yield.
Chemical protection products are being impacted by shortage of drivers causing periodic production line stoppages as stock is not cleared; this will typically be true lost production that cannot be made up. Difficulties in importing CPP is anticipated to have an impact on Spring availability.
Recruiting trials officers, important for an R&D led company, has been equally frustrating.
Recruiting highly skilled laboratory staff for seed certification has taken over a year to still have no suitable applicants.
For Agrii’s customer, especially fruit and vegetables, there have been labour shortages that have left crops to rot, or even worse having to be harvested to be binned. This cannot help balance of payments because replacement product is then sourced from abroad and the environmental impact of growing them will be incurred for nil consumption.
There are some well-rehearsed, long-term, issues for driver availability because the number of retirees has greatly exceeded the number of new drivers joining the industry over many years.
For our particular set of products the driver’s work is very physical, which make it even less attractive to many. Vehicle design and route planning have made some improvements but farmer requirements that they do not need to come off the field back the yard to receive product will mean it will remain a physical role for the foreseeable future. Taillifts or Moffats could reduce this but the impact on payload would result in worsening environmental performance and the need for more vehicles and drivers to deliver the same weight.
Drivers being tempted to move, by what historically would have been seen as unsustainable wages, but with few additional drivers coming into the market.
Employing FLT drivers has been difficult for the past five or more years because those with the skill-set required have been in short supply. Brexit and the subsequent constraint on new EU-nationals coming into the market has certainly resulted in the recruitment of semi-skilled FLT drivers exceedingly difficult. These roles account for over 5% of current vacancies.
So called unskilled picker roles have not been filled because there have been insufficient workers wanting those type of roles.
The recent rise in gas prices has had well documented impact on fertilizer production and then onto prices. Availability and price competition will create significant increase in cost of inputs that will drive inflation.
For the next 6 months it looks grim probably with a significant adverse impact on farming and UK food self-sufficiency.
Difficulties and hurdles in moving product to Northern Ireland has definitely influenced the volume sent and the physical difficulty with phytosanitary certificates causing additional delays does not encourage us to try to send more.
We import only limited quantities in our own name but for our suppliers (we are a distributor) it is seen to be causing a large problem. The result is that we are taking ownership earlier where possible, this adds ‘dead’ cost to the supply chain and pulling forward need for drivers, warehouse people and warehousing; all of which can do without additional pressure that drives cost inflation.
This additional cost will be passed on to farmers, in addition to the cost of goods increases being carried made by manufacturers. This higher inputs cost to farmers will be passed on to end-product manufacturers and then consumers. Others will be better informed about CPP cost increases but over 10% seems to be a consensus on a basket of products.
In itself small impact on Agrii – limited to PC for seed import and exports which is a small part of Agrii activity.
Allowing drivers to take two exams at once appears pitiful even though ‘helpful’. I would be a strong advocate of putting in place a medium-term (2 year) enhanced score for HGV drivers with ADR qualification, the ADR being vital for us, that would allow more drivers to come here to work. For FLT drivers a short-term (1 year) approach may suffice as the labour market stabilises.
I imagine significant Government pressure is being put on supermarkets to keep fuel and food available, this is resulting in them increasing the pay to attract labour; however without actually increasing the number of available employees we are kidding ourselves that this is in any way helpful as we are just moving the problem. Supermarkets may well have ‘enough’ drivers but if their suppliers have lost drivers to the supermarkets they cannot deliver and so the very well paid supermarket driver pulls a less-than full trailer.
Yes without doubt – unless there is a move to get additional employees into the market, with FLT and driver skills, I see the next year or so as being likely to be lurching from crisis to crisis as the labour migrates to highest paid role.