SEAFOOD processors are being asked to provide data on their workforces to help get a clear understanding of labour availability in the UK in the light of Brexit.
In response to industry and government requests, Seafish will collect the information in a series of surveys, which will be used to inform government decisions about staffing in the sector.
In early 2017, a labour nationality survey by Seafish found 66 per cent of UK seafood processing sites employed workers from other EU countries. The same data revealed that 42 per cent of the 10,000 employees in the survey were from other EU countries.
The research also revealed wide regional variations in the proportion of workers employed from outside the UK.
For example, in the Grampian region, where much of Scotland’s seafood processing is located, 70 per cent of the total reported workforce were citizens of other EU countries, whereas in the Humberside (mainly Grimsby) region, 17 per cent of workers – or about 1,000 employees – were from other EU countries.
While both these statistics differ from the UK average, they are likely to change in the near future, with multiple businesses expressing concerns about labour availability and the flow of workers into the seafood processing sector slowing in recent months.
Earlier this week there were calls from Grimsby to give seafood Brexit exemption in the form of free trade status, which drew ridicule on social media from some Remainers because the town voted overwhelmingly in the referendum to leave the EU.
The new Seafood Processing Labour Reports will track trends in the number, proportion and ease of recruiting both UK and non-UK workers in the seafood processing sector in the period before and immediately after the UK leaves the EU. These reports will focus on the nationality of permanent, temporary and seasonable workers.
The whole workforce review survey will be conducted annually, starting this month, with additional quarterly update questionnaires helping collect data on the ease or difficulty of recruiting, staff turnover and the business impacts of changes in labour availability.
Seafish will also use the information to produce case studies from individual businesses, and is calling for all seafood processing businesses interested in contributing to this research to get involved.
Nigel Edwards, technical and CSR director at Icelandic Seachill, said: ‘We are facing an uncertain future and we must get a comprehensive overview of our workforce to be able to tackle any labour supply issues before they become a big issue.
‘I would encourage all processors to be involved in this vital survey so a clear picture of the industry’s workforce can be formed and our concerns can be heard.’
Seafish chief economist Hazel Curtis said: ‘We have heard very clearly the concerns expressed by business leaders in the seafood processing sector about increasing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers.
‘They are telling us there has been a notable drop-off in the availability of workers from European countries that had previously been a ready source of willing workers.
‘We are aiming to ensure government decisions in the run up to Brexit are well informed by robust quantitative and qualitative data and analysis, concerning labour and associated business practices throughout the UK seafood processing sector.’
Jimmy Buchan, business manager at the Scottish Seafood Association, said: ‘There is a common belief the processing sector relies heavily on the EU for its workforce. If that is the case we need to act to ensure there isn’t a shortfall in workers.
‘We hope this survey will be completed by the whole sector so we can understand what challenges we face, where our workers come from and what steps we need to take to ensure our industry is robust and healthy well into the future.’
In addition to supplying evidence directly to government, evidence from the first annual survey will be supplied to the Migration Advisory Committee as part of its 2017 call for evidence on EEA workers in the UK market. Results will be made available to stakeholders after each survey.