Food sector’s UK workers need Brexit assurances

By Matt Atherton contact

- Last updated on GMT

The GMB union said UK workers must not be caught in the crossfire of Brexit
The GMB union said UK workers must not be caught in the crossfire of Brexit
The GMB union has urged the government for assurances that the food sector’s UK workers won’t be caught in the crossfire of Brexit, while food manufacturers and farmers compete harder for a reduced number of non-UK EU nationals.

The food sector needs a skilled and motivated UK workforce to take advantage of Brexit, the union stressed. But, some manufacturers were cutting jobs just to maintain profit, it claimed.

GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Many companies have already cut jobs, reduced product sizes, increased numbers of agency workers and cut pensions in order to maintain profit levels.

“Brexit is just another excuse for companies to keep raking in sky high profits at the expense of their workers’ well-being. With post-Brexit inflation on the horizon, and the potential for the pound to slump further, it’s up to the government to demand companies protect their workers’ rights.”

Elsewhere, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) called for clarity on the future of the food and drink sector’s 115,000 non-UK EU workers.

‘Stated their intention to leave’

An FDF spokesman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Around one in 12 of ​[our] members reported that EU employees had stated their intention to leave the UK.

“Government must develop a new migration policy that ensures manufacturers have continued access to the workers we need to address a looming skills gap, and the drive for future innovation to support the UK’s competitive advantage.”

The call for clarity came as food and farming businesses struggled to fill vacant seasonal work with non-UK EU nationals.

Chicken hatcheries firm PD Hook in Oxfordshire said EU workers went home for Christmas, but never returned. With 80% of its 2,000 workers coming from eastern Europe, it was forced to shut down one of its farms, and is considering closing another two.

‘More and more difficult to find people’

PD Hook owner James Hook said: “It’s just getting more and more difficult to find people. We go to the usual sources and they are not there.

“Europeans want to make a life but they’re worried about their future here. If these workers have job options outside the UK, they will take those.”

Hook’s concerns were echoed by recruitment firm Encore Personnel, which finds labour for the food sector.

“Over Christmas, one company said that out of 500 workers on one particular shift, they were about 200 short,” ​said Encore Personnel operations director Pete Taylor. “It’s the aftermath panic of Brexit, and people are running for the hills. They’re certainly not running for the Fens, which is where we need them.”

Meanwhile, protecting workers’ rights was one of the government’s 12 Brexit principles​, set out in its White Paper, released last week.

Government’s 12 Brexit principles

  • Providing certainty and clarity
  • Taking control of our own laws
  • Securing a deal that works for the whole of the UK
  • Protecting our strong historic ties with Ireland and maintaining the Common Travel Area
  • Controlling immigration
  • Securing rights for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU
  • Protecting workers’ rights
  • Ensuring free trade with European markets
  • Securing new trade agreements with other countries
  • Ensuring the UK remains the best place for science and innovation
  • Cooperating in the fight against crime and terrorism
  • Delivering a smooth and orderly exit from the EU

Related topics: Legal

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