As we move towards post-Brexit Britain, there are new predictions for those working in the food industry. Jobs in agriculture, horticulture and food manufacturing may see major changes very soon with their industry’s futures left uncertain.
In this article, we report on the growing numbers of migrant workers contemplating leaving the UK and the implications this may have for British workers and our wider economy.
How will our food manufacturers be affected?
40% of the workers in food manufacturing are migrants. However, many of these foreign workers are re-considering their position in the UK following the Brexit vote.
We may struggle to fill all available jobs in the food industry if a high percentage of migrants do leave the UK.
Many “Remain” campaigners claimed that British citizens would not accept roles in the food industry. Their reasoning is that, because EU workers earn on average £3.00 less per hour, the roles on offer would not be attractive or well-paid enough for Britons. If this turns out to be true, our sector could face major shortages in the availability of workers. Ultimately, domestic producers will struggle to achieve production targets.
This potential shortage of labour is expected to push up wages. British nationals may experience in increase in their wages of anywhere between 0.2% – 0.6% once the UK leaves the EU. While that’s good news for workers, firms could be negatively impacted due to relying heavily on migrant workers in the past.
Furthermore, current predictions for the average UK employee’s prospects in the food manufacturing sectors are bleak with a 2% decrease forecast in their wages after Brexit (link). Companies are urging the government to invest in increasing their employees’ skills and in new technology to prepare themselves for life outside the trading bloc.
This turmoil may be avoided, some argue, if the government can guarantee the rights of existing EU employees to continue working in the UK in the short term. Longer-term, the government and businesses will need to work on a sustainable plan to ensure the correct levels of staffing across the food industry.
Could we see a labour shortage?
Migrant workers make up a significant percentage of the seasonal labour workers and if they decide to leave the UK following the Brexit vote, we may face a shortage of fruits and vegetables.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has urged the government to create a new scheme to attract agriculture students from around the world to undertake the seasonal harvest work. If such a scheme is introduced, the young people it brings could add extra energy and skills to improve productivity on UK farms.
If we do see a major decrease of migrant workers completing seasonal labour work, the horticulture industry could be threatened. This industry contributes £3bn to the UK’s economy and, although it already employs 37,000 people across England, a further 40,819 seasonal workers are needed each year to complete tasks including harvesting and packing produce.
When the UK experiences a lack of seasonal labour, crops remain unpicked and rotting in the fields. Supermarkets then import cheaper produce and UK-based food production companies face significant losses.
Which migrant workers are most likely to leave?
With one-third of foreign workers already considering leaving the UK, a survey by the financial consultancy Deloitte found that highly-skilled EU workers are most likely to go back to their country of origin or find opportunities outside the UK.
According to Deloitte, more than 58% of migrants in their survey claimed that British companies would find a struggle to replace them with UK staff with this number rising to 70% among highly skilled EU-workers. The reason why so many migrants believe themselves to be irreplaceable by UK workers is not clear however anecdotal evidence seems to suggest that it may be because foreign workers receive significantly lower pay on average than UK workers.
Post-Brexit Britain may create new career opportunities for British nationals and our country’s economy could improve rather than diminish. However, if the many pessimistic predictions of our colleagues in the horticulture, agriculture, and food manufacturing sectors are correct, then we may be moving towards a crisis in food production.
However, as the old joke goes, economists have predicted nine of the last three recessions. They could be completely wrong. The last cliff edge British economists and business people believe the country threw itself off was not joining the Euro. Perhaps they should ask Italy how it’s getting on with the single currency.
Do you want a career in food manufacturing? You might just be in demand!
If you would like to contact us regarding Brexit’s impact on the food sector, please get in touch. Alternatively, if you’re looking for a new role or for a new member of staff, we’ve been recruiting for the food manufacturing industry since 2000 and we’d would love to help you.
Contact b3 jobs on 01435 866000.