A Scottish Government minister has heard very serious concerns about post-Brexit labour availability, during a visit to a West Lothian meat processing plant.
During a tour of AK Stoddart’s processing facility in Broxburn by Mike Russell, Minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place in Europe, the importance of non-UK labour to the business was made very clear.
During the visit, organised by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS), the Minister met Grant Moir, Managing Director of AK Stoddart’s, who raised concerns over future staff shortages and about the ability to continue to employ EU-nationals post Brexit.
“Scotland has to compete with the rest of Europe in its bid to attract people into the workplace. Following the initial Brexit announcement this has become an increasingly challenging task for many Scottish Food and Drink businesses,” said Mr Moir
“At Stoddart’s we depend on a large number of non-UK EU nationals to make up our workforce, without whom we would be unable to run our business at its current level. One third of our processing staff are non-UK EU nationals who are highly skilled in meat processing.
“Any restriction of freedom movement as a result of the Brexit negotiations will in my opinion be hugely detrimental to both our business and the wider Scottish economy.”
Mr Moir added: “Recruitment and retention of our EU National workers will remain our single biggest business challenge for the immediate future.”
Today’s visit followed the recent publication of “Migrant labour and the Scottish red meat sector” one of a suite of Brexit briefing papers published by QMS. This publication included the results of a survey undertaken by the Scottish Meat Wholesalers Association which found that 52% of the unskilled workforce, 44% of the skilled workforce and 16% of supervisory and management staff are non-UK nationals.
QMS Chief Executive Alan Clarke, who joined the minister on today’s visit, also emphasised the importance of non-UK labour.
“Having access to a pool of skilled labour is essential to ensure the Scottish red meat sector can have sustainable growth.
“Non-UK nationals are of fundamental importance throughout the red meat supply chain, especially in the processing sector. In the case of the statutory food safety inspection and monitoring carried out in Scottish processors, Food Standards Scotland reports that around 98% of their official veterinarians are from outside the UK,” said Mr Clarke.
Scottish Minister Mike Russell said: “A hard Brexit and the end of freedom of movement will create the very real risk that the number of people working in Scotland will fall.
“That will mean fewer tax-payers to support vital public services and many sectors of the economy will struggle to attract the workers they need.”
Mr Russell added: “It is essential we remain a member of the Single Market and Customs Union.
“Many companies benefit from our fellow EU nationals’ work as well as having access to the world’s most lucrative market.
“I will continue to push for continued membership, not just as part of a transition deal but as the destination, so securing the future of our workforce and protecting access to valuable markets.”