Details of the proposals, said to originate from a leaked Home Office document, were published today (September 6) by The Guardian.
Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director general Ian Wright told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Food and drink manufacturing, Britain’s largest manufacturing sector, will be alarmed by the proposals contained in the document published by The Guardian.
‘Vital contribution EU migrant workers make’
“If this does represent the government’s thinking, it shows a deep lack of understanding of the vital contribution that EU migrant workers make – at all skill levels – across the food chain.”
The plans also undermined the role and creation of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), he added.
“We will continue to work with government and MAC to ensure a practical and evidence-based way to proceed.”
The leaked document was said to set out plans to end the free movement of workers after Brexit in a bid to deter all but highly-skilled EU workers from working in the UK.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) warned of dire consequences for the whole UK food chain if the sector experienced a sharp fall in the number of migrant workers.
‘Massive disruption to the entire food supply chain’
“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,” said NFU deputy president Minette Batters.
“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.”
- Minette Batters, NFU
“A solution for the whole industry is needed to ensure the sector has access to the skills and labour it needs.”
The union called for an urgent and clear commitment from government to ensure that farmers and growers had access to sufficient numbers of permanent and seasonal workers after Brexit. Also clarity was needed on the new rules for EU nationals living and working in the UK well before free movement ends in March 2019.
“A competent and reliable workforce is vital for British farms to be a dependable source of raw ingredients for the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, worth £108bn,” said Batters.
The horticulture sector alone needed 80,000 seasonal workers a year to plant, pick, grade and pack over 9Mt and 300 types of fruit, vegetable and flower crops every year. “Across the sectors, particularly in poultry, pig and dairy, access to both seasonal and permanent workers is absolutely critical,” she added.
The government declined to comment on the leaked documment.
Read reaction from the Confederation of British Industry and the British Beer & Pub Association in the box below.
Food and drink manufacturers, the farming sector, retailers, the hospitality industry and others have long campaigned for continued access to EU migrant workers.
Meanwhile, read The Guardian report here.
What others say about the leaked proposals
Confederation of British Industry Neil Carberry, md for people and infrastructure
“An open approach to our closest trading partners is vital for business, as it attracts investment to the UK. And, with employment high, it also helps keep our economy moving by addressing key skill and labour shortages.
“Businesses will look for the government’s final position paper to support an open but managed approach to immigration. That means taking the initiative to guarantee those already here that they can stay, a transition period with limited changes so firms can plan ahead, and a final system for the EU that is simpler and more open than the complex work permit system run for non-EEA countries.”
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds:
“This document suggests that there may be a cap on low-skilled workers which would undermine the needs of the pub industry, where we rely a great deal on those with the soft skills needed to provide great hospitality.
“Whilst the brewing and pub sector does employ thousands of UK citizens, 17% of our 900,000 employees are from overseas and this rises to 40% plus, in metropolitan areas. For some companies it is much higher, particularly for kitchen staff. The UK’s low unemployment rates are going to make it extremely hard to replace these employees with UK nationals. If there were to be a cap for EU employees, it must be at a level that can sustain our industry.”