Seafood industry's workforce exposure to hard Brexit 'worse than earlier thought'

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 22 Feb 2018

A THIRD of workers in the area’s seafood industry are from Europe, new research has shown, a far higher reliance than an earlier snapshot had suggested. 

Seafish, the Grimsby-based industry authority, has worked with Government to analyse the sector’s labour pool, with findings released at a dedicated seminar that ran alongside a special career awareness event in the town today.

And it not only outlined the potential impact should it be a hard Brexit with restrictions on working and movement freedoms, but how recruiting domestically will become vital to retain the processing sector built on the town’s fishing legacy.

Lewis Cowie, economics researcher, presented the findings at a special seminar as part of a Future of Food event held by the organisation in conjunction with host Grimsby Institute.

He said: “The local seafood industry is quite heavily reliant on non-UK labour, specifically European labour. These are positions generally filled through freedom of movement and as there could be potential changes, and there’s uncertainty, processors are keen to see this work.

“The previous survey, which showed 18 per cent, that was a snap shot, this has taken place over an entire year, with a robust sample covering everyone employed for 2017.”

It features 3,000 employees in the Humber – now predominantly Grimsby – with 5,000 in total understood to be directly employed in the biggest single sector.

A full report will be published in the next few months.

“We were commissioned by Defra to do this work,” Mr Cowie said. “It is a joint project by Defra and Seafish, with a series of surveys scheduled until August 2019”.

While it remains the cluster least dependent in the whole of the UK – with Grampian at a staggering 70 per cent EU labour– the one in three figure underlines the severity a harsh Brexit could bring.

Simon Dwyer, who has headed up a lot of the cluster’s work on Brexit, had anticipated a higher figure from the more robust study, and other work done in the wider food industry.

“We have had it the Brexit concern list from day one,” he said. “Irrespective of whether it has gone up or not, that position hasn’t changed. It is still a concern, particularly for the larger processors who are more likely to employ non-UK labour. That hasn’t changed in terms of key messages, and we are still getting that message in to Government.

“It is no surprise it has gone up, many thought it would, and the concern is around, retaining that workforce between now and March 2019, and any transition period that may follow.” 

The secretariat of Grimsby Fish Merchants Association, who is also heading up a Brexit workshop in Norway next month, has previously told how it is a resilient industry and “if prepared will tackle it,” hut has stated he hopes for a solution “somewhere along the line”.

One of Grimsby’s largest employers is Seachill, home of the Saucy Fish Co brand and chief supplier to leading supermarket Tesco.

Nigel Edwards, technical and corporate social responsibility director, said: “We welcome the survey results which gives our trade associations, especially the Seafood Industry Alliance, the evidence we need to back up our call to Government to keep access to labour.  

“These are skilled jobs and people enjoy excellent careers in our industry. However, we share the same challenges as the food industry in general  – and many other industries across the UK – that we offer a great place to work and excellent opportunities for training and career development, but there are simply too few people in the labour market to fill all our roles locally.”

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