The UK food industry is facing a dearth of workers amid the Brexit vote. The labour shortages have reached the worst levels since 2004, according to Association of Labour Providers (ALP), a specialist trade association in the UK.
Farmers, manufacturers and processors in the country are said to be finding it difficult to get enough workers in the run up to Christmas, a festival period when demand for food is at its highest levels. The industry also fears that delivering goods to shops and homes could become an issue amid a potential shortage of truck and van drivers.
Speaking at the Food and Drink Federation's Brexit conference, David Camp, chief executive of ALP said, "We are not going to meet all the supply needed for the Christmas peak. At this moment in time, labour providers are experiencing the worst labour shortage since before 2004."
Camp explained that 90% of the temporary labour jobs in the sector were previously held by European Union (EU) workers. However, post the UK's decision to leave the EU, these workers had backed away. He added that responses for job ads had declined considerably.
He said Brexit had two implications on seasonal labour. The first one, he said was amid the fall in the value of the pound post the Brexit vote. This, he said affected the overall earnings of EU employees as they were now worth much lesser when converted to the Euro.
"The reduction in the value of the pound means the exchange value of your wages back into your home currency is worth 15% less than it was. That absolutely wipes out the increase in the 'national living wage'," Camp said.
The other effect from Brexit was the uncertainty over the free movement of EU workers across the UK. He said there were fears of an anti-migrant sentiment among European nationals, which had in turn discouraged them to work in the country. "There is [also] the anti-migrant sentiment. Things do get built up in the media but my members were reporting back they were seeing actual cases of race hate and anti-migrant sentiment," he explained.
Camp's comments follow similar concerns revealed by the National Farmers Union (NFU), an industry association for farmers in England and Wales. NFU horticulture board chair Ali Capper was quoted by the Guardian as saying, "We're already experiencing a shortfall in EU workers resulting from long-term declines and exacerbated by the referendum outcome." The association is said to have even called on the UK Government to come up with measures that will avoid experiencing such shortfalls in 2017.