Pig industry faces labour Brexit crisis

The UK pig industry could be faced with a massive labour shortage if the government does not retain access to EU workers following Brexit, according to a National Pig Association (NPA) members survey. 

In the survey, which polled members from across all sectors of the industry, it was revealed that just over a half of respondents employed at least one non-UK worker, with 24% hiring more than a quarter of their labour from overseas.

Almost half (46%) said it would be ‘very difficult’ or ‘impossible’ to source all their labour from the UK in future. Eleven percent said it would be ‘very easy’, while 42% said it would be ‘possible but not straightforward’.

One in five businesses could be at risk of survival, with 17% saying their businesses would not survive without migrant labour, while 28% would have to alter how they operate.

Although the actual exit from the EU is still over a year away, the survey reported that 29% of businesses employing EU labour said at least one EU worker had left since the Brexit vote, due to changing circumstances such as exchange rate fluctuations and concern over immigration policies.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of those employing EU labour said it had become harder to find EU labour since the vote, while none said it had got easier.

The survey also revealed that around 90% of businesses using non-UK labour employed them on a permanent basis, with 94% of non-UK workers coming from the EU.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies added that for the government to describe this job level as ‘low skilled’ was misleading.

“They are anything but ‘low-skilled’,” she said. “Animal husbandry clearly requires a high degree of technical skill, but many roles do not require graduate-level training.

“The government has made it clear it wants to restrict permanent so-called low-skilled workers after we leave the EU. The NPA is making the argument in the strongest possible terms that ‘lower skilled’ workers employed in the pig sector should be included on the ‘shortage occupation’ list and prioritised after we leave the EU.

“We are already seeing the effects of Brexit on our ability to secure EU workers and our survey highlights the scale of the crisis this sector faces if we get our immigration policy wrong. Without the workers, we simply cannot produce and process the fabulous British pork enjoyed by millions of consumers. Exporting pork production is in nobody’s interest.”

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