Shortfall of migrant workers threatens loss of production to locations elsewhere in Britain and Ireland
One major border agri-food producer is already advancing plans for a continental production facility
February 27th: Unite Regional Officer, Sean McKeever, said that the jobs of food and drink processing workers in Northern Ireland are threatened by Tory plans which would see the UK remain outside a EU customs union. He called for local political parties to use their Westminster seats to secure a UK-wide Brexit deal guaranteeing tariff-free market access:
“The food and drink sector in Northern Ireland employs more than twenty thousand in Northern Ireland and underpins the demand in the wider agricultural sector as well as that in border areas. Unite represents significant numbers across the sector. These are workers who perform hard manual tasks day and daily and who receive wages not much more than the bare legal minimum – now they face a very real challenge from a hard, Tory Brexit.
“We are very concerned as bosses in the sector have Brexit plans which would redirect production to those sites which can better secure labour supply. In one case we are aware of, corporate management are already moving to establish a production base on the continent due to difficulties in obtaining migrant workers here in Northern Ireland.
“Since the referendum vote, we’ve already seen a sharp downturn in the number of migrant workers coming to work in border-based, agri-food businesses but despite this they remain a large component of the workforce. In the context of a Tory, hard Brexit, those numbers are likely to drop further threatening the long-term viability of border production sites.
“Alongside the migrant workers, thousands of local people are dependent on these jobs and the scale of production at the company provides vital demand for the rural economy. The impact would be devastating.
“The Westminster government appears intent on the UK having no customs union agreement with the EU but this makes a hard border unavoidable; the only question is whether this hard border will be on the island of Ireland or on the Irish sea. Either option is very bad news for the agri-food sector. A land border will make it next to impossible to meet labour demand; a sea border will pose severe challenges for an industry whose products are destined overwhelmingly for GB consumers.
“In the context of these Brexit challenges there is now no excuse for Northern Ireland’s politicians failing to use their Westminster seats to secure a tariff-free trade access deal. It is in everyone’s interests in Northern Ireland that the UK remains within an EU customs union and avoids the impact that a hard border will have on our economy and on the working-class”, Mr McKeever said.