Food industry ‘could face labour crisis’: FDF survey

By Matt Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Almost half of food and drink businesses said their EU workers were considering leaving the UK
Almost half of food and drink businesses said their EU workers were considering leaving the UK

Related tags United kingdom Eu

The food and drink sector could face a labour crisis without government action, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) warned, after a joint industry survey revealed thousands of EU workers have already returned home, and many more may follow.

The food industry would be unable to feed the nation if large numbers of non-UK EU nationals were to leave the country, the FDF said. Should “irreversible” ​numbers of EU nationals leave the UK over uncertainty fears, the country would be “hurt culturally and economically”​, the FDF said.

Its comments came as it was revealed almost half of food and drink businesses said their EU workers are considering leaving the UK. Almost one in three (31%) businesses said their EU workers were already beginning to leave, the survey found.

The survey – by food and drink representatives, including the FDF, the National Farmers Union and the British Retail Consortium – also found that 36% of businesses would become loss-making without access to EU workers. Without access to EU workers, 17% of firms would relocate away from the UK.

‘A matter of national security’

“It’s not a trivial issue. Food is matter of national security,”​ FDF director general Ian Wright told BBC Radio 4’s Today​ programme. “Our shoppers and consumers over the past 30 years have grown used to a massive amount of choice, and a huge number of different products at all price points. Maintaining that level of choice rests on a stable and contented workforce.

“What this survey shows, is that a number of the Europeans – and one in three people in the food industry is a European national – are beginning to think about their future here. If they can get more money somewhere else, then they will go. So, these are big issues for us.”

Long-term key recommendations to government

  • Invest in supply chain skills
  • Support hard-to-reach labour
  • Benefits system made for flexible working

It was “imperative”​ that the government secured the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK, including the food and drink sector’s 400,000 EU workers, the FDF said.

The FDF made nine key recommendations to government to safeguard the supply chain, including three short-term, medium-term and long-term proposals.

Nine key recommendations to government

Short-term recommendations included: securing the rights of European Economic Area nationals to live and work in the UK after Brexit, review immigration recording data, and recognise the strategic importance of the food and drink supply chain.

Medium-term proposals were to: build an effective migration system, ensure no ‘cliff-edge’ scenario for trade after Brexit, and increase Home Office resourcing efficiency.

Long-term recommendations to government included: investing in skills for the food and drink supply chain, supporting access to hard-to-reach labour markets, and allowing the benefits system to make flexible working easier.

Last month, business groups welcomed the Home Office’s plan​ to assess the role of EU nationals in the UK economy and society.

Meanwhile, don’t forget to fill out the Food Manufacture Group’s online supply chain survey for your chance to win £100 worth of Amazon vouchers. Complete the survey below.

What others say about the supply chain survey

  •  “An abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers able to work in the UK after we leave the EU would cause massive disruption to the entire food supply chain – a solution for the whole industry is needed to ensure the sector has access to the skills and labour it needs.”

Minette Batters, National Farmers Union

  • “An abrupt reduction in the number of EU workers eligible to work in the UK after Brexit would result in significant disruption for the entire food supply chain, with consequences for the availability and price of UK goods for consumers.”

Andrew Opie, British Retail Consortium

  • “This survey shows it is vital that the uncertainties of Brexit, for our EU workforce, are resolved as soon as possible.”

Brigid Simmonds, British Beer & Pub Association

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