New research has revealed the stark reality of Scotland’s migrant labour crisis.
The need for a continued supply of seasonal workers in the Scottish soft fruit and vegetable sectors has been glaringly obvious ever since the Brexit referendum, but the scale of the problem has now been made clear.
A Scottish Government-sponsored survey carried out by Scotland’s Rural College last year showed there were 9,225 seasonal workers employed in soft fruit, field vegetable and potato businesses.
Essentially, these workers have carried out virtually all of the hand harvesting and most of the packhouse work.
The survey showed only about 40 per cent of those surveyed will definitely return for the 2018 season, with 12 per cent unlikely to.
Forty-six per cent were undecided. Weaker sterling has made the UK a less attractive destination and Brexit-related uncertainty about level of welcome has been an issue.
Additionally, as the workforce has diminished, longer stints of overtime have been needed and even the most ‘work hungry’ pickers need a proportion of their time for rest and recreation.
In some cases, this will have been lacking, making work in Scotland less attractive.
The dependence on workers from Bulgaria and Romania is stark, with these two late entrants to the EU accounting for 60 per cent of the total.
A decade ago, most of the seasonal workforce would hail from Poland or the Czech Republic, followed by the Baltic States.
The question now is where to find replacements. China, the Far East and India have all been mentioned, but if these were to be possible sources, the UK Government would need to create a replacement Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme in double-quick order.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “The findings of the research are completely in line with the evidence we have been receiving from members in the fruit and vegetable sector over the last few months.
“This evidence is just further proof we need a robust plan, post-Brexit, to attract EU and non-EU seasonal workers for the Scottish soft fruit industry to continue to flourish.
“NFUS has been asking the UK Government to implement a seasonal workers scheme for some time now and it is getting to the point that if nothing is done soon, we will see serious crop losses, especially at the tail-end of the season.”
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