30 food and drink associations in the UK have recently warned that if the UK does not retain access to EU workers, food prices will rise sharply.
They wrote a letter to be published in the Guardian, in which they describe the current situation as workers from EU countries begin to return home.
Call For Attention
The letter’s aim was to grab the attention of the government, and to ask for help. The associations wish for the government to give what they term unambiguous reassurance to the workers who are unsure whether or not they will be allowed to remain.
The Home Office has since responded, claiming that they will go on harnessing the knowledge of the industry to ensure that EU workers’ voices were heard.
It’s a big problem, and could potentially be catastrophic for the UK if nothing is done. There are nearly 4 million people with food industry jobs in the UK, working in the supply chain, harvesting crops, and selling food and drink products. Just under a third of them are originally from other countries in the EU.
"Workers from the EU, some of whom are already leaving the UK, play a significant role in delivering affordable and high-quality food and drink," the letter said. "The government should offer unambiguous reassurance to EU workers throughout our supply chain about their right to remain. For the longer term, it is important to recognise that these workers are highly flexible and provide an essential reservoir of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labour."
Food Security Risk
One of the main concerns of the trade associations is that the food security of the country could be at risk. Side effects of the vote can already be seen, as some workers begin to leave the country. Their decision to go is a result of the falling value of the pound, the racist tones brought out with the vote, and the ambiguity over whether they will be able to stay in the long run.
The industry, the associations warn, is central to the economic wellbeing of the country, not to mention the food recruitment opportunities that it provides for the other two thirds of native workers. They say it should be treated on an equal footing with other sectors, such as automotive and financial.
They want the government to consider all viable options for keeping workers in the country. Some of the options that they suggest are a points-based system for occupations which face a shortage of workers, worker schemes based on seasons, and transitory arrangements to keep the industry going.
They warn that if this is not done, the UK will see food prices rising, as well as fewer choices available to consumers.
A Strong Association
The signatories on the letter included a strong group of associations. These were the Food and Drink Federation, which has long been vocal about the impact of Brexit; the Association of Cereal Foods Manufacturers; the British Beer and Pubs Association; the National Farmers Union; and many more.
The association cautioned that there simply aren’t enough workers available for skilled labour in the UK. Food engineers and some other roles often have to be filled from within the EU, and all of those positions could be at risk if EU workers are no longer permitted to take them.
"The horticulture sector is on red alert and there will be crops rotting in the field if they cannot be picked, it's as simple as that," said Minnette Batters, deputy president of the NFU. “They are reliant on the human hands to pick them."