He said research has shown that the agricultural sector has already experienced a shortage of seasonal non-UK workers of 15-20% last year. This is because many EU workers were choosing to leave the UK due to continued uncertainty about their status after Brexit, but also because seasonal EU workers could earn more in the Eurozone, due to the weak pound.
Another reason cited was that membership of the EU has helped improve employment conditions and social protections in the country of origin of many seasonal workers.
While on a visit to soft fruit producer Angus Growers, where the majority of workers are from the EU, he said: “The soft fruit sector is one of Scotland’s success stories, with an estimated income of £134 million last year and having experienced considerable growth over the last decade. That growth is now at risk from Brexit, due to the prospect of barriers to trade and labour being introduced.
“Stakeholders, such as Angus Growers, have repeatedly highlighted the fact that seasonal non-UK workers provide a significant, valuable contribution to the rural economy and that filling the employment gap, post-Brexit will be extremely challenging. So it is concerning that the UK Secretary of State Michael Gove has failed to provide the complete clarity on future access to migrant agricultural workers, which he committed to by the end of March.”
He has called on the UK Government to end the ongoing uncertainty by committing to remaining in the EU single market and customs union.
Angus Grower said it was important for growers to be able recruit workers from outside the EU.