Responding to an interview with the Food and Drink Federation’s (FDF’s) director general Ian Wright, where he claimed a crisp manufacturer would lose 10% of its workforce because of Brexit, the GMB called for greater scrutiny of the industry’s wider performance.
Eamon O’Hearn, GMB national officer, said: “GMB notes the comments made by the FDF but believes that there are a number of issues affecting the UK food and drink industry, not just Brexit.
“Perhaps rather than focusing on the loss of 10% of employees in one company, we should be looking at the industry's wider performance.”
While labour challenges had increased since the Brexit vote, GMB pointed out that day-to-day industrial relations had not changed.
Standards in the industry
O’Hearn said that the poor standards in the industry were a contributing factor to shortages of workers in the food and drink industry.
“There are many areas of high turnover in the industry that are frequently a result of tough working conditions, relatively low wages – including the compression of wage rates for work of higher skill –and limited access to career development opportunities,” he said.
O’Hearn warned of a trend across the industry of pension schemes being closed, cuts to terms and conditions, workforces being downsized and increasingly longer working patterns that had put people off working in food and drink manufacturing.
“Until these trends, and the underlying industrial relations issues are addressed, the rates of turnover, deskilling and labour shortages are only going to continue, regardless of Brexit,” he added.
However, the FDF said the food and drink industry offered well-paid roles at every skill level, with over a third of employees operating in highly skilled roles.
Key driver for labour shortages
It continued to cite the uncertainty surrounding the shape of the UK’s exit from the EU as a key driver for labour shortages.
An FDF spokesman said: “In a recent FDF survey that looked across the whole UK food and drink supply chain, companies reported that since the EU referendum EU nationals are leaving and are concerned about their right to remain – worryingly, labour shortages are now beginning to appear across the supply chain.
“We want to work with government and other partners to tackle these challenges by securing an industrial strategy sector deal which will help boost skills, innovation and exports and deliver growth across the nation.”
Meanwhile, earlier this month, the FDF repeated calls for the government to confirm whether EU workers would be allowed to remain after Brexit, following the fifth round of Brexit talks in Brussels.