Scottish food sector calls for pre-Christmas action on labour shortages

Scottish food sector calls for pre-Christmas action on labour shortages

An open letter from Scotland’s food and drink industry to the Scottish and UK governments requests urgent action to tackle staff shortfalls ahead of the crucial Christmas season.

Martin Morgan, executive manager of Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, was among the signatories of the letter.

Organised by FDF Scotland, the letter was co-signed by other Food and Drink Partnership members including National Farmers’ Union Scotland, Scotland Food and Drink, Scottish Bakers, Opportunity North East, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, Scottish Seafood Alliance and Scottish Wholesale Association.

The letter said that both Brexit and the pandemic have “accelerated existing pressures on labour availability.” Industry-wide labour shortages have now reached a “crisis point” that is “putting the growth, viability and security of many Scottish businesses in jeopardy, with knock on impacts for consumers.” 

The group said: “We need action now to save Christmas.”

Within the letter, the group cited research conducted by industry partners in the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership to illustrate the extent of the impact the current shortages are having on the sector.

In a recent survey of 88 Scottish businesses:

  • 93% of businesses currently had job vacancies
  • 90% of them described their job vacancies as hard to fill
  • 97% of them felt that they would struggle to fill vacancies in the future
  • jobs that were hard to fill cover all parts of the business and all wage ranges, with particularly difficult areas being in engineering and production operation
  • issues were reported across the whole of Scotland. 

The letter further stated that many people who would traditionally have been attracted to work in the food industry from abroad can no longer do so. Online and delivery companies have also recruited workers during the pandemic and there is “no sign” of people returning to the industry.

According to NFU Scotland, the group has called on the governments to put the following recommendations into action:

  • introduce a 12-month Covid-19 recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain – to deal with immediate pressures on the industry and allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers
  • commission an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the needs of the food and drink sector
  • waive the fees to employment visas for the food and drink supply chain until 2022.

The letter said: “These are unprecedented and turbulent times and, until stability returns for businesses, we would ask the UK and Scottish governments to support the industry and implement these measures. Without these, we strongly believe the current supply chain disruption will only worsen as we enter the peak trading period in the run-up to Christmas.”

FDF Scotland and the other Food and Drink Partnership members said they were “determined” to do what they could to tackle the current issues and to progress initiatives and support businesses but stressed that they would need “immediate help in order to do so.”

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