Publised date : 22 Jun 2017

Perthshire North’s SNP MSP, John Swinney, has today revealed his concern about staffing levels in the soft fruit industry after figures revealed that fruit growers have reported problems in employing sufficient, seasonal staff to help pick their produce, since the EU referendum.

Sources suggest that some 80,000 seasonal employees work in the fruit and veg picking and processing industry, every year. A majority of the estimated 80,000 seasonal workers who are employed across the UK arrive from the EU. Early reports for the 2017 season suggest that more than one in five growers have indicated that they have fewer pickers than they require. The leading industry body in the soft fruit growers market has suggested that staff shortages are at their worst levels since 2004 – prior to the expansion of membership of the EU.

Seasonal labour provided by EU nationals is viewed as a critical resource to the soft fruit market and some growers fear that, without sufficient seasonal workers, the industry may need to reduce their production in the UK and import its produce – risking price increases of up to 50% on soft fruits.

Commenting, Mr Swinney said:

“Perthshire is famous for being home to quality, soft fruit produce. Its reputation has resulted in it becoming a vital part of the local economy.

“Concerns regarding the availability of seasonal labour following the Brexit vote were well documented during, and immediately following, the EU referendum. It is very concerning that our local farming industry will be directly affected by this. I am also worried that some fruit growers are predicting even greater staff shortages post-Brexit. This will particularly be the case if EU nationals’ rights are not guaranteed by the UK Government during the Brexit negotiations. 

“The Tory Party has dragged us into this mess and still appear to have no plan. Their shambolic approach to Brexit negotiations is causing direct damage to the soft fruit industry, and the farming sector more generally, as this latest evidence shows. The Scottish Government has made it clear that EU nationals are welcome in Scotland and that we value the contribution they make to our society, and our economy. It is vital that the UK Government urgently confirms the status of EU Nationals, going forward.”

Adding to this, Pete Wishart MP for Perth and North Perthshire said:

“Almost a year to the day since the referendum result was declared, the Tory Government has not made any meaningful progress in relation to the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK. Due to the very obvious effect this would have on industries such as the soft fruit sector I would have hoped that they would have taken this matter more seriously and treated it with urgency.”

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