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Seasonal Workers Survey Identifies Labour Shortage Fears
Scotland's potato, fruit and vegetable sectors are amongst the most pioneering and dynamic - with new technology and innovation offering exciting new opportunities to extend the season and expand the crop, in the face of the somewhat adverse growing conditions in Scotland.
And it shows – with the seed potato sector alone delivering c.£100 million to the Scottish economy, and the fruit and vegetable sector growing to almost £300 million last year.
However, a recent survey undertaken by NFU Scotland has suggested that these key sectors of Scottish agriculture are under threat due to labour shortages in the face of unfavourable exchange rates and changing economies in the EU.
The UK’s impending exit from the European Union is compounding these issues, with uncertainty abound as to the availability of work permits for non-UK nationals as the UK Government seeks to tighten immigration controls after Brexit.
NFU Scotland’s Seasonal Workers Survey has found:
100% respondents stated that non-UK seasonal workers were important to their business.
In 2016 and 2017, 50% respondents employed 20 or less non-UK staff.
16% respondents employed more than 200 non-UK staff both years.
65% respondents reported that recruiting non-UK workers was more challenging in 2017 than in 2016.
74% anticipate new and increased challenges in recruiting non-UK workers in 2018.
100% of those who completed the survey were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the impact labour shortages would have on their business in 2018 and beyond.
43% respondents reported difficulty in retaining workers, issues with returning workers, challenges with worker productivity, and an increase in overtime hours as a result of a more challenging recruitment environment in 2017.
48% respondents had difficulty harvesting in 2017 due to labour shortages.
When asked what business decisions might have to be taken without access to sufficient seasonal labour:
58% of respondents said they were ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to downsize their business
42% said they would cease current activity
52% said they would automate production
61% said they would increase wages to attract staff
55% said they would increase internal skills and development.
NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick said:
“With the 2018 season almost upon us, it is vital a solution is found to attract non-UK workers to Scotland to undertake agricultural seasonal work for up to ten months, which has in-built flexibility to allow workers to move from farm-to-farm as harvests complete.
“This is an immediate issue, but what is also becoming of increasing concern is how Scotland’s agricultural and food processing sectors will continue to employ and retain non-UK workers for permanent positions up and down the supply chain after Brexit.
“Next week, NFU Scotland will publish a report ahead of meetings with the UK Government’s Home Office and Members of Parliament.
“The report will identify the pressure points for future labour requirements throughout the Scottish agriculture and food processing sector and it will outline proposals for a new Agricultural Labour Scheme which NFU Scotland believes could satisfy seasonal and permanent, on-farm and off-farm labour needs.”
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