British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's post-Brexit plan for immigrant workers is under fire from three of the UK's largest seafood trade organisations.
The Scottish Seafood Association (SSA), representing the wild-caught sector, and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), backing the farmed salmon industry, have joined forces to call for urgent discussions with UK government ministers amid concerns about the impact of post-Brexit immigration plans.
Following the UK's official exit from the EU at the end of January, Johnson plans to close the UK border to low-paid and unskilled workers.
But his plans quickly attracted criticism from employers after fishery and agriculture workers were placed into the category of low-skilled workers with waiters and waitresses.
Under a new points-drebased immigration system, all migrant workers will have to speak English. In future those wishing to work in the UK must have a job offer with a salary of £25,600 (€30,677/$33,091), although this may be lowered to £20,480 (€24,540/$26,470).
The Scottish Seafood Association and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation highlight the dependence of the processing sector on overseas labor, stressing the importance of ensuring that businesses of being fully staffed.
Processors expect to see growth in seafood volumes beginning in January next year after the UK ends its transition period as part of the withdrawal from the European Union, although this may depend on how much access to UK waters is ceded to EU-flagged fishing vessels in forthcoming crucial fisheries talks.
“These immigration plans have the potential to severely restrict the economic boost that will flow from the UK’s exit from the Common Fisheries Policy," SSA Chief Executive Jimmy Buchan said.
"At the point of expansion, we need ministers to allow scope for recruitment of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled labor as they are all vital to the viability of the sector."
While the government will claim it is taking back control of British borders following the 2016 referendum, for which many say immigration was a key factor in their decision to vote leave, industry leaders fear businesses, the economy and jobs will all be harmed.
“We are concerned that these proposals, as drafted, could hinder the production and processing of Scottish salmon," SSPO Chief Executive Julie Hesketh-Laird said.
It is widely accepted the food industry as a whole is more reliant on non-UK labor than many other sectors, Andrew Kuyk, director general of the UK Seafood Industry Alliance trade group, which represents the interests of the UK's most prominent fish processors, told IntraFish.
A major number of these jobs are at the lower end of the skills range or in parts of the country where pay rates tend to be lower, though these factors in no way detract from their importance in the production process and enabling companies to remain viable in what is a highly competitive market place, he said.
The UK Seafood Industry Alliance has lobbied for a pragmatic and proportionate approach to future migration policy recognizing current recruitment difficulties and the challenges of automation.
While companies can and do make efforts to recruit and train UK staff the United Kingdom is currently enjoying one of the highest periods of near full employment for many years making factory-based jobs particularly difficult to fill, Kuyk said.
"We therefore share the disappointment of many others that this has not been as fully recognized as we would have wished," he said.