Meat business fears over curbs on EU labour force

Quality Meat Scotland chief executive Alan Clarke, Mike Russell and Grant Moir from AK Stoddart

Scottish agriculture’s concerns over access to a post-Brexit labour force continue to dominate political lobbying in the last days of the year.

Scotland’s Brexit minister, Mike Russell, was given a tour of A.K. Stoddart’s meat processing plant at Broxburn and told by managing director Grant Moir that the business would be unable to operate at the current level without a large number of non-UK EU nationals.

“Any restriction of freedom of movement as a result of the Brexit negotiations will in my opinion be hugely detrimental to both our business and the wider Scottish economy,” said Mr Moir.

“Recruitment and retention of our EU national workers will remain our single biggest business challenge for the immediate future.”

A survey undertaken by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers has found that 52% of the unskilled workforce, 44% of the skilled workforce and 16% of supervisory and management staff are non-UK nationals.

Following the meeting, which was organised by Quality Meat Scotland, Mr Russell said: “A hard Brexit and the end of freedom of movement will create the very real risk that the number of people working in Scotland will fall.

“It is essential we remain a member of the Single Market and Customs Union.

“I will continue to push for continued membership, not just as part of a transition deal but as the destination, so securing the future of our workforce and protecting access to valuable markets.”

Meanwhile Tayside Conservative MP Kirstene Hair has written to the prime minister asking her to release details of a framework which would allow seasonal migrant workers to access jobs on soft fruit farms.

She said immediate action was needed to prevent damage to the industry.