The government must give the non-UK EU workers in the food sector “unambiguous reassurance” about their right to work in the UK, urged the organisations in an open letter to the government. The importance of the food and drink sector to the UK’s “economic and physical wellbeing” must be recognised, the letter said.
“A significant element in our ability to deliver affordable and high-quality food and drink is the part played by workers from the EU,” the organisations said. “At a time when household incomes are under increasing pressure, shop prices for food have been kept in check for more than three years.
“If that is to continue, the government must ensure the place of food and drink in our new industrial strategy and it must place the sector’s priorities at the heart of the Brexit negotiations.”
Fruit and vegetable farmers relied on non-UK EU seasonal workers to harvest crops, it was revealed. UK workers didn’t want the poorly paid, physically demanding work, it was claimed.
Resolve this issue
Home Office response to the food industry’s open letter
- “We want to see net migration to the UK fall to sustainable levels – the tens of thousands. But, we recognise this is a complex issue and that there is no quick fix. We are determined to get the best deal for the UK in our negotiations to leave the EU, not least for our world-leading food and farming industry which is a key part of our nation’s economic success. As we draw up our plans to leave the EU, we are harnessing industry’s knowledge and experience and ensuring their voice is heard.”
Some non-UK EU workers had already left the UK following June’s EU referendum, and the subsequent devaluation of sterling, the letter claimed. Offering reassurance to non-UK EU nationals working throughout the supply chain about their right to work in the UK would resolve this issue, the organisations said.
“The food and drink industry has not always spoken with one voice,” said the 32 food and drink representatives. “Today [December 9] it has come together in the national interest to make the strongest possible case for UK food and drink. That voice must be heard and heeded.”
Almost 4M people are employed in the food and drink sector, and food manufacturing contributed more to the economy than the automotive and aerospace sectors combined, the letter said. Food and drink exports were worth £18bn, it added.
The Home Office claimed it would harness the industry’s knowledge and experience to ensure the right deal was struck when leaving the EU. The UK needed a fair and controlled immigration policy, and that’s what the government would deliver, it said.
‘A complex issue’
A Home Office spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “We want to see net migration to the UK fall to sustainable levels – the tens of thousands. But, we recognise this is a complex issue and that there is no quick fix.
“We are determined to get the best deal for the UK in our negotiations to leave the EU, not least for our world-leading food and farming industry which is a key part of our nation’s economic success. As we draw up our plans to leave the EU, we are harnessing industry’s knowledge and experience and ensuring their voice is heard.”
The latest pleas followed a similar letter to the Prime Minister Theresa May, urging her to secure the right of non-UK EU nationals to work in the UK, plus access to the Single Market after Brexit. The letter was signed by 75 food and drink organisations – including 2 Sisters and Müller – representing 1M people.
32 signatories in open-letter to government calling for Brexit labour reassurance
- Agricultural Industries Confederation
- Association of Bakery Ingredient Manufacturers
- Association of Cereal Food Manufacturers
- Association of Labour Providers
- Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers
- British Beer and Pubs Association
- British Coffee Association
- British Frozen Food Federation
- British Growers Association
- British Meat Processors Association
- British Poultry Council
- British Retail Consortium
- British Soft Drinks Association
- British Specialist Nutrition Association
- Federation of Bakers
- Food and Drink Exporters Association
- Food and Drink Federation
- Fresh Produce Consortium
- International Meat Trade Association
- National Association of Catering Butchers
- National Association of British and Irish Millers
- National Association of Cider Makers
- National Farmers Union
- Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association
- Snack, Nut and Crisp Manufacturers’ Association
- Packaging Federation
- Petfood Manufacturers Association
- Potato Processors’ Association
- Provision Trade Federation
- Scotland Food and Drink
- Seasoning and Spice Association
- UK Flavour Association