Low domestic unemployment and higher turnover rates in staff mean the sector is reliant on migrant labour to continue to grow
Growth targets for the Scottish red meat sector will be compromised if the industry does not have access to migrant labour.
Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) warned migrant labour played a key role in the sector, on-farm, in the processing sector and in veterinary inspection, with 98 per cent of Food Standards Scotland official veterinarians non-UK nationals.
Stuart Ashworth, QMS head of economics services, said without access to skilled labour the ability of the red meat sector to contribute to the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership’s Ambition 2030 growth strategy would be ‘compromised’.
Mr Ashworth highlighted the falling unemployment rate in Scotland, at 4 per cent in February to April 2017 as one reason the processing sector relied on non-UK labour and said many businesses were in areas with unemployment rates below the Scottish average.
“Abattoirs in these regions would account for some 70 per cent of the Scottish cattle and pig throughput and 90 per cent of the Scottish sheep throughput,” he said.
The uncertainty around the Brexit vote has also led to a higher rate of turnover in migrant labour.
Specialist pig farms were also at risk with most producers in Scotland employing non-UK EU staff.
“The sector therefore has two concerns in respect of non-UK labour, one being current established employees leaving and the second a reduction those willing to come to the UK,” said Mr Ashworth.
Typically labour turnover in the meat processing sector is reported at 20 per cent or more per year with the meat hygiene inspection service reporting similar levels.