Scotland expresses concern over future of immigrant workers

Scotland’s meat processing and farming sectors have united to urge the government to provide assurance on the status of workers from outside of the UK. 

It is believed that an estimated half of the workforce in Scotland’s abattoirs and meat processing plants are from overseas. Following on from the referendum result, the industry bodies have joined forces to seek answers sooner rather than later to secure the stability of the sector moving forward.

“Non-UK employees are currently making a vital contribution to the efficient and effective operation of the Scottish red meat processing sector,” said Frank Clark, senior vice president at the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW).

“In some plants, the non-UK workforce accounts for 50% of total employment numbers. It is clearly crucial that business owners are able to plan their future employment, training and development strategies with the confidence that their current workforce, UK and non-UK staff alike, will continue to be available to them on a long-term basis.”

Severe damage

He said that the potential loss of half of the workforce – or even two years of confusion surrounding their status – would severely damage the red meat sector’s ability to compete on a global level and subsequently damage the sectors contribution to the Scottish economy.

“Our request to government, therefore, is for clear assurances of long-term UK status to be given to our non-UK workforce,” added Clark. “We also request that such assurances are provided now, not in to years’ time or more. Failure to provide such assurances will damage the industry by stalling investment and undermining our existing and highly valued workforce. This must not be allowed to happen.”

National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland livestock chair Charlie Adam said that everyone involved in the industry needs an efficient processing sector to keep Scottish meat progressive.

“While the timetable for Brexit remains to be defined, it is essential our abattoirs and processors don’t operate in an employment vacuum,” he said. “Without a clear government-led employment strategy for non-UK staff identified at an early stage in the process, we will see our abattoirs struggle to function.

“We are calling on the government to ensure that abattoirs are not cut off from recruiting appropriate staff from outside the UK. These are permanent jobs and many of them are highly skilled.

“We have an industry in Scotland which provides top quality meat from farm to plate, but to keep this up we need the right people working in our red meat chain.”

Call for "clear statement soon"

NFU Scotland and SAMW has received backing from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), after calling for the government to make the right decision.

It said: "BMPA is concerned that an industry that is highly depdendent on EU labour is not damaged by either government indecision or policy and we wish that they would rapidly recognise the need for many parts of the agricultural and food and drink sector to be able to continue to recruit from the EU.

"Some sites are already experiencing difficulty recruiting because of the uncertainty around the future of EU workers and not only will this worsen as the uncertainty builds, but it prevents companies from fully being able to plan for the next couple of years, let alone post-Brexit. There needs to be a clear statement soon, and we press government to make the right decision and allow this workforce to enter and stay in the UK post-Brexit."

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