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Brexit’s labour impact in focus as industry and Government calls for seafood data

Seafood processors are being asked to contribute data on their workforce to help get a clear understanding of labour availability in the UK and the possible impact of Brexit. 

Brexit’s labour impact in focus as industry and Government calls for seafood data

In response to industry and government requests, authoritative organisation Seafish will collect information in a series of simple surveys, which will be used to inform decisions.

It follows an industry snapshot recorded earlier this year, revealed at last month’s Humber Seafood Summit. 

It showed 17 per cent of Grimsby’s workforce to be from other EU countries, with other areas, particularly Scotland, employing at a much higher rate. The national average across 10,000 employees in businesses polled was 42 per cent. 

Nigel Edwards, technical and CSR director at Seachill, said: “We are facing an uncertain future and we must get a comprehensive overview of our workforce to be able to tackle any labour supply issues before they become a big issue. 

“I would encourage all processors to be involved in this vital survey so a clear picture of the industry’s workforce can be formed and our concerns can be heard.”#

His company, just bought out by Hilton Food Group, employs 750 people directly, but seasonal highs – such as the run-up to Christmas – can see this figure peak at 1,400.

Across town at Ross House, and Young's Seafood is the UK's largest seafood company, with around 2,000 employed in Grimsby, and more employees in Scotland - where the percentage, particularly in the region where the Fraserburgh plant is - recorded as high as 70 per cent.

A spokesperson said: "Continuing to have ready access to EU workers is important to us and the industry as a whole. We support Seafish’s work to listen to how Brexit may impact the fish processing industry, which plays an important role in our economy, society and community.”

In recent months concerns about labour availability and the flow of workers into the seafood processing sector has been reported to have slowed.

Now the new Seafood Processing Labour Reports will track trends in the number, proportion and ease of recruiting both UK and non-UK workers in the seafood processing sector in the period before and immediately after the UK leaves the EU. These will focus on the nationality of permanent, temporary and seasonal workers. 

The whole workforce review survey will be conducted annually, starting this month, with additional quarterly update questionnaires helping collect data on the ease or difficulty of recruiting, staff turnover and the business impacts of changes in labour availability. 

Seafish will also use the information to produce case studies to illustrate the stories from individual businesses, enabling personal experiences with labour-related issues to be voiced. 

Chief economist at Seafish, Hazel Curtis, presented the initial findings at Cleethorpes Pier. Today she said: “We have heard very clearly the concerns expressed by business leaders in the seafood processing sector about increasing difficulties in attracting and retaining workers. They are telling us there has been a notable drop-off in the availability of workers from European countries that had previously been a ready source of willing workers.  

“We are aiming to ensure government decisions in the run up to Brexit are well-informed by robust quantitative and qualitative data and analysis, concerning labour and associated business practices throughout the UK seafood processing sector.”

It comes as a call was made in Westminster for Humber ports to be given free trade status post-Brexit, in a bid to ensure supplies are uninterrupted by any additional border control enforcement. 

In addition to supplying evidence directly to government, the findings from the first annual survey will be supplied to the Migration Advisory Committee as part of a 2017 call for evidence on EEA workers in the UK market. Results will also be made available to stakeholders after each survey by Seafish.

For more information about survey participation contact Lewis Cowie, economics researcher at Seafish, via or call 0131 524 8631.

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