Brexit survey highlights importance of EU workers to UK food sector

Earlier today, the representative body for the UK’s food and drink sector released a Brexit survey highlighting the workforce concerns it has about the UK’s imminent departure from the EU.

The survey focuses in particular on the high percentage of food businesses that would be ‘unviable’ without EU workers.

The survey, released by the UK’s Food & Drink Federation (FDF), claims to ‘”cast new light” on the ‘farm to fork’ sector’s Brexit priorities from a workforce perspective.

The report highlights the severity of the situation that the UK food and drink supply chain faces without reassurances regarding the future of EU workers.

EU nationals, according to the report, number two million across the UK economy, with 20% of these workers employed across the food and drink supply chain.

The key findings of the report included the fact that over one third of businesses surveyed (36%) said they would become unviable if they had no access to EU workers.

Following this up, it was found that nearly half of businesses surveyed (47%) said EU nationals were considering leaving the UK due to uncertainty surrounding their future.

31% of businesses surveyed had seen EU nationals leave in the time since the EU referendum, while 17% of respondents said they would look to relocate overseas if they had no access to EU nationals.

In response to these findings, the survey reports some key recommendations to the British government to help alleviate the problem. These are in the form of short, medium and long-term suggestions.

The recommendations include: securing the rights of EEA workers currently in the UK; building an attractive migration system; avoiding a ‘cliff-edge’ Brexit scenario; investing in skills provision for the ‘food and drink supply chain’; and allowing the UK benefits system to make flexible working easier.

Commenting on the report, Ian Wright, Director General, Food & Drink Federation said: “The UK food and drink supply chain ensures that consumers have access to the safe, affordable and delicious range of food and drink that they have come to expect.

“Food is a matter of national security, so the results of this report are of central concern to businesses across the ‘farm to fork’ industries.

It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores. This is a scenario that will hurt the UK culturally and economically.

“Without our dedicated and valued workforce we would be unable to feed the nation. This is why it is imperative that we receive assurances from government about their future, and that of our wider workforce,” Wright concluded.