Food supply chain voices Brexit labour concerns
Trade bodies from across the food supply chain have published a survey on the sector’s Brexit priorities from a workplace perspective, warning that an “abrupt reduction” in the number of EU workers would cause “significant disruption” to the industry.
The survey, co-ordinated by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), found that almost half of ‘farm to fork’ businesses responding, or 47%, said that EU nationals were considering leaving the UK, due to uncertainty surrounding their future.
Over a third of them, 36%, highlighted they would become “unviable” if they had no access to EU workers, while almost a third, or 31%, of respondents had seen EU nationals leave since the EU referendum.
In addition, 17% of businesses surveyed noted that they would look to relocate overseas if they had no access to EU nationals.
What’s more, almost three quarters of respondents, or 73%, said EU workers were concerned about their right to remain in the UK, while 70% said they faced challenges when trying to recruit permanent employees locally. Additionally, 63% expressed the same for seasonal/temporary positions.
The research was conducted among members of the National Farmers’ Union, the Food and Drink Federation, the Association of Labour Providers, the Fresh Produce Consortium, the British Retail Consortium, the British Hospitality Association, and the British Beer and Pub Association.
Recommendations to the Government
In light of the findings, the survey published a number of key recommendations to the Government to be implemented in the short, medium and long terms.
In the short term, the Government is urged to legislate to secure the rights of EEA nationals currently in the UK, review the recording of immigration data and recognise the strategic importance of food and drink supply chain.
The survey also calls on the Government to build an ‘attractive and effective migration system’, to ensure no cliff-edge when the UK leaves the EU and increase the efficiency through adequate Home Office resources in the medium term.
Looking at long-term recommendations, the survey proposes investment in skills provision for the food and drink supply chain, support access to hard-to-reach labour market solutions and allow benefits system to make flexible working easier.
Discussing the findings, the director general for FDF, Ian Wright CBE, commented: “The UK food and drink supply chain ensures that consumers have access to the safe, affordable and delicious range of food and drink that they have come to expect.
“Food is a matter of national security, so the results of this report are of central concern to businesses across the ‘farm to fork’ industries. It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores. This is a scenario that will hurt the UK culturally and economically.”