Scotland’s farmers and meat processors have called on the UK government to provide assurances on the future residency status of non-UK workers employed in the country’s meat sector.
Stating that an estimated 50% of workers in some of Scotland’s abattoirs and meat processing plants are thought to be non-UK, NFU Scotland and the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) want decisions to be taken now on workers’ residency rights, rather than waiting “months or years” for the Brexit process to commence and conclude.
“We need a healthy, efficient processing sector to keep the Scottish meat industry and the Scotch brand growing and moving forward,” said NFU Scotland’s livestock chair, Charlie Adam, adding that ongoing access to non-UK staff is crucial.
“While the timetable for Brexit remains to be defined, it is essential our abattoirs and processors don’t operate in an employment vacuum. 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.”
The union also wants the government to ensure that abattoirs are not cut off from recruiting appropriate staff from outside the UK.
SAMW senior vice president, Frank Clark, agreed, stating that non-UK employees make a vital contribution to the efficient and effective operation of the Scottish meat processing sector.
“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,” he said.
“The potential loss of up to half our processing workforce, or even two years of confusion concerning the status of that workforce, would seriously damage the meat sector’s ability to compete on the world stage.
“Our request to government is for clear assurances of long-term UK status to be given to our non-UK workforce. We also request that such assurances are provided now, not in two 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.”
Headline image shows (left to right) NFU Scotland livestock policy manager, John Sleigh, Frank Clark and Charlie Adam in the boning hall at the McIntosh Donald factory at Portlethen, near Aberdeen.