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Union Uses Evidence Session with Scottish Affairs Committee to Call for UK-Wide Labour Scheme

NFU Scotland document ‘CHANGE: Why people matter to Scottish farming and food’ launched today

In giving evidence to Westminster’s Scottish Affairs Committee in Kirkcaldy today (20 Feb), Director of Policy Jonnie Hall said Brexit, the ensuing uncertainty, and the current lack of clarity over the UK’s future relationship with the EU have accelerated the decline in the number of EU nationals wanting to work in the Scottish industry.

He warned that any further barriers to non-UK nationals coming to work in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU would cause considerable disruption to the entire agriculture and food supply chain in the nation.

With publication of the UK’s Immigration Bill having been repeatedly pushed back, Mr Hall said clarity on any future system is urgently needed.  Whatever solution is found, it must ensure an adequate supply of non-UK workers in both seasonal and permanent positions.  Those workers are needed both on- and off-farm.

NFU Scotland’s proposal – unveiled in its document ‘CHANGE: Why people matter to Scottish farming and food’ launched today - is for a two-part UK-wide Agricultural Labour Scheme open to workers from any country, not just the EU, to provide agricultural labour on a seasonal and non-seasonal basis.

Speaking after the evidence session, Mr Hall said: ““The issues highlighted in our paper impact on all Scottish agriculture - whether that is the high-value and expanding soft fruit and vegetable sectors, who are experiencing serious shortages of labour, or the vital veterinarians and staff who are employed within abattoirs and processing facilities, supporting our world-leading red meat sector.

“Information and case studies gathered from our members underline that a substantial proportion of the Scottish agricultural workforce is made up of non-UK nationals, and continued access to this overseas supply of labour post-Brexit is absolutely critical. Those non-UK nationals work in seasonal and permanent positions essential to the delivery of high-quality Scottish produce from field to fork.

“NFU Scotland’s proposal is for a new Agricultural Labour Scheme, and our vision will be fed in directly to the Home Office and parliamentarians within Westminster and the Scottish Parliament.  We believe this is the best and most sensible solution to the UK Government’s desired aim of “controlling immigration”.

“The forthcoming Immigration Bill must recognise the crucial importance of migration for certain sectors of the UK economy, particularly the agriculture, horticulture and food processing sectors, and ensure that a steady stream of skilled and competent workers can fill vacancies in these sectors on a temporary and a permanent basis.

“It must be based on a realistic expectation of the ability and availability of UK workers to fill the jobs currently carried out by EU migrant workers. Many Scottish farmers and growers try to employ local labour as far as possible, using a range of recruitment tools including new social media. However, for various reasons, they have found local worker recruitment to be unsuccessful when compared to workers from overseas.

“The domestic population prefer permanent employment, which makes recruitment of seasonal workers challenging. In addition, most agricultural and food processing work is physical in nature, with long hours often necessary and jobs located in remote, difficult-to-access areas – making the jobs appear unattractive to the domestic workforce.

“Prior to the EU referendum, labour providers and employers were already reporting a decline in the number of EU nationals wanting to work in the industry – particularly in seasonal roles. Reasons include falling unemployment levels in the EU; enhanced welfare benefits in Romania, Bulgaria and Poland; the weakness of sterling and a preference for more desirable, permanent jobs.  Brexit, the ensuing uncertainty, and the current lack of clarity over the UK’s future relationship with the EU have accelerated this trend.

“Any further barriers to non-UK nationals coming to work in Scotland after the UK leaves the EU would cause considerable disruption to the entire agriculture and food supply chain and Government must act to address this now.”  

Notes for Editors

  • A copy of the NFU Scotland document ‘CHANGE: Why people matter to Scottish farming and food’ is available by clicking here
  • The paper includes Scottish farm-based case studies on the importance of both seasonal and permanent non-UK staff and outlines how important non-UK nationals are to the whole supply chain.   It states:
    • Between 5,000 and 15,000 non-UK seasonal workers are employed within Scottish agriculture at any one time – with 85 percent employed within the horticulture sector.
    • Half of staff in Scottish red meat processing are non-UK
    • One in five farms and businesses connected to the UK pig industry would struggle to survive without permanent non-UK workers and one third of permanent staff on British dairy farms are non-UK
    • 60,000 hauliers and HGV drivers across the country are non-UK
    • Non-UK nationals make up more than 40% of temporary and permanent egg sorters and packers in the integrated egg industry
    • Over 80% of vets in approved meat businesses are from outside the UK
    • Beyond farming, food and drink, non-UK nationals are employed in a vast range of downstream industries that are vital to Scotland’s economy – such as hospitality and tourism.
  • 100 percent of respondents to NFU Scotland’s recent Seasonal Worker survey indicated that their businesses as under threat due to labour shortages.  Read the news release at: https://www.nfus.org.uk/news/news/nfu-scotlands-seasonal-workers-survey-identifies-labour-shortage-fears

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 30/18


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