Seasonal workers still vital to Scottish Agriculture as Brexit approaches

NFU Scotland is highlighting the vital role seasonal and migrant workers play in the production of food and drink in Scotland, the country’s largest export industry


Tue, 19 Dec 2017


NFU Scotland

In the appropriate setting of Craigie’s Farm and Food Shop on the outskirts of Edinburgh, NFUS used its Christmas Press Briefing to reiterate the push for politicians to allow foreign workers access to seasonal work in Scotland post Brexit. 

Access to workers during the busy harvest season is a serious issue for many farmers and growers in Scotland whose businesses rely on seasonal workers at their busy times of year. 

The fruit and vegetable sector in particular needs access to seasonal workers if businesses are not to be critically short of people to harvest fruit and vegetables during the harvesting season.

Access to seasonal workers remains a key priority for NFUS. The Union continues to press the UK Government to act swiftly to put in place the mechanisms to allow access to seasonal workers, and which operates very much along the lines of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) which came to an end in 2012. 

John Sinclair, farmer and owner of Craigies, can testify to the importance of seasonal labour when it comes to running his fruit and vegetable, livestock, shop, restaurant, and visitors centre. 

Mr Sinclair said: “We are already starting to see the number of EU nationals wanting to work in the industry declining.  If we don’t get access to a sizeable and dependable source of workers, then high value fruit and vegetables will be left unharvested.  If not addressed, this will lead to production shifting to other places where the labour supply is more secure and will lead to the country importing more instead of growing what we can here.

“Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) is currently gathering data on migrant workers in Scotland’s Fruit and Vegetable Sectors.  Whilst the findings of that work have not yet been published, NFUS expects that it will show that between 5,000 and 15,000 seasonal workers are employed within Scottish agriculture at any one time, with a significant number employed for more than six months at a time. 

“If there were no access to migrant labour, few farm businesses in the valuable fruit and vegetable sectors could continue to grow for key markets.

“We believe that a new seasonal workers scheme should be introduced for next season.  This would allow anew system to be trialled and tested.  We can’t afford to wait until the point that crops are not harvested.  The UK Government needs to act on this issue urgently.”


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