Its agriculture spokesman Stuart Agnew, Member of the European Parliament and chicken producer, told this website fears about the availability of migrant workers’ labour under a government influenced by UKIP were misplaced.
“It’s not a problem,” Agnew told FoodManufacture.co.uk in this exclusive video interview filmed at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday January 7. “Any worker who is here legally at the moment will stay here. Anyone who is employing eastern Europeans – as long as they are here legally and the vast majority are – will carry on doing that.”
UKIP wanted to introduce a work permit system covering two categories of workers: regular workers and harvest workers, he said. “You have regular workers from abroad who are the mainstay of the poultry industry and the horticultural industry – I am aware of that; they are doing a very useful job.”
Harvest workers would be the responsibility of the employer, who would house the workers and ensure they returned home at the end of harvest and did not commit any crime. “We understand this [migrant workers] is very important for British agriculture and we are not going to deprive agriculture of it.
“What we do not want is among immigrant populations those who here to claim benefit and to commit crime because the pickings are a lot richer [than in their home nations].”
‘Now they are all European’
Agnew went on to reveal how his own poultry business depended indirectly on the contribution of migrant workers. His East Anglian poultry business relied on a contractor to remove spent hens. “12 years ago they [the removal firm’s workers] were all British, now they are all European.
“I don’t employ them directly. The customer for my birds sends them. If they didn’t come [to dispose of spent stock], I couldn’t get my birds out.”
Agnew also promised a brighter future for the food industry if Britain quit the EU. As Europe’s major trading partner, Britain could agree favourable trading terms, without being bound by Brussels’ red tape, once the country had left the EU, he claimed.
Other speakers at the Oxford Farming Conference – including shadow food and farm minister Hugh Irranca-Davies and Scotland’s farming minister Richard Lochhead – warned exit from the EU would be disastrous for the food and farming industry.
- This video was produced by Laurence Gibbons.