Migrant labour vital to Scottish red meat industry
Published:  21 June, 2017

The importance of migrant labour to the Scottish red meat industry has been highlighted in a Brexit briefing paper, published by Quality Meat Scotland (QMS).

According to the paper, the Scottish red meat industry generates an annual output of around £2.4bn and creates employment for more than 30,000 people, of which non-UK labour plays “an important part”.

Stuart Ashworth, QMS head of economics services, said: “Where non-UK labour is of fundamental importance to the red meat supply chain is in the slaughter and processing sector. Not only is non-UK labour important on the factory floor but it is also key in respect of veterinary inspection.

“Without access to skilled domestic or migrant labour the ability of the Scottish red meat sector to contribute to the growth targets set by the Scotland Food and Drink Partnership in its Ambition 2030 strategy published in spring 2017 will be compromised.”

A recent survey of its members by the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) showed a significant dependence on migrant labour. It reported that 52% of the unskilled workforce, 44% of the skilled workforce and 16% of supervisory and management staff are non-UK nationals.  

Ian Anderson, SAMW executive manager, said: “These figures reveal how crucial an acceptable Brexit agreement will be for our industry, both immediately settlement is reached and longer term.

“For the immediate post-Brexit period we need a settlement that includes provision for the sector’s non-UK workers to remain in the jobs which they currently hold. They are an integral part of our workforce, filling gaps in the employment structure which UK nationals had not previously filled.”

It attributed the reliance of the sector on non-UK nationals to the falling unemployment rates in the country overall and in areas that contain meat processing businesses. “Many meat processing businesses are located in areas with unemployment levels below the national average, for example Aberdeenshire, Moray, Dumfries and Galloway, Perth and Kinross, Angus and Stirling, which all have unemployment rates estimated to be below the Scottish average,” said Ashworth. “Abattoirs in these regions would account for some 70% of the Scottish cattle and pig throughput and 90% of the Scottish sheep throughput.”

The report also highlighted the reliance of non-UK nationals for statutory food safety inspections and monitoring carried out in Scottish abattoirs. Food Standards Scotland reports that around 98% of their official veterinarians are non-UK nationals.