Swinney and Wishart demand clarity from UK Government
John Swinney MSP and Pete Wishart MP today urged the UK government to end uncertainty within the soft fruit sector, following the publication of a Scottish Rural College (SRUC) report.
The report, which seeks to examine the patterns and behaviour of seasonal migrant labourers, highlights the challenges facing the industry.
The report found that 46% of migrant soft fruit pickers were unsure if they would return in 2018, with only 40% claiming they would definitely return. Additionally, it found that there was a 15% reduction in migrant soft fruit workers coming to Scotland in 2017.
It was also revealed that of Scotland’s approximately 10,000 seasonal migrant labour workforce, almost 75% were based in Perthshire and Fife.
Commenting, Mr Swinney said:
“This report only reinforces the damage that Brexit is already doing to the Perthshire economy. Local farmers have been clear: they require the UK Government to take decisive steps to safeguard their livelihoods and bring clarity to this entirely preventable situation.
“Rather than cleaning up this mess of their own making, the Tories have spent their time briefing against each other and quarrelling like children. This must end today. The Tories must fully engage with the Perthshire farming community and take meaningful action to assuage their concerns.”
Adding to this, Mr Wishart said:
“We have been warning about the implications of Brexit on the soft fruit sector for some time now and the UK Government need to take immediate action to ensure that Perthshire farmers can continue to operate normally post-Brexit. Seasonal labour is key to making sure that produce gets from the fields of Perthshire to shop shelves as quickly as possible and the current rules regarding seasonal workers puts this at risk.
“It is time for the UK Government to start working constructively with the National Farmers’ Union to address their concerns about Brexit. It would be unforgivable if we had to rely on imported food whilst farmers struggle in Scotland as a result of government inaction.”
Almost two-thirds of employers surveyed in the report stated that, should they be denied access to the migrant workforce, they would likely be forced to switch to other agricultural activities.
The report categorically cites Brexit as a chief cause of uncertainty, stating: “Brexit has undoubtedly affected the confidence of a proportion of workers and therefore their expectations about returning to Scotland in 2018.
“To date, there have been no certain answers for workers’ concerns (e.g. the strength of Sterling,
potential visa costs, more limited access to the UK labour market), as the businesses themselves are equally uncertain over Brexit issues.”
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