The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) is calling for a halt to proposed changes to rules requiring growers to pay recruitment fees of seasonal workers.

The new requirements to Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit (SMETA) workforce audits unveiled this week will require UK farming and growing businesses to pay for the recruitment and transportation fees of the seasonal workers they employ.

The union said this new requirement could have a “substantial financially damaging impact on farming and growing businesses”.

The NFU is calling for the change to be paused until there is “proper industry consultation”, alignment on how it will be fairly implemented and the financial cost impacts and risks to farming and growing businesses are fully understood.

NFU president Tom Bradshaw said: “I am shocked that a decision such as this, which could have detrimental financial implications on our farmers and growers – already struggling with high input costs, extreme weather events and challenges in the supply chain – has been decided without the consultation of the people and businesses it will affect.

“We care deeply about the welfare of the skilled people who come to our country to help produce the nation’s food and many horticulture and poultry producers have high numbers of workers return to their businesses each year because they are so well valued.

“Paying the recruitment fees of workers could mean that many businesses are no longer commercially viable and will drive food price inflation.

“It is unclear how the change in standard will be applied fairly and transparently across the supply chain.”

Time and time again, Bradshaw said, the NFU has “kept up the drumbeat of the need for fairness in the supply chain”.

But the lack of assessment and understanding of how farming and growing businesses will be impacted by this change will undermine that work, he said.

“It is vital that the proposed changes are paused until there is a full consultation with all stakeholders and a full assessment on the impacts the proposed audit changes will have to the commercial viability of growers, food inflation and UK food security.”