The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has highlighted the severity of the situation that the UK food and drink supply chain faces without reassurances regarding the future of EU workers in a report released today.
The survey of more than 600 businesses revealed a third have seen EU nationals leave since the referendum, while over half said EU nationals were considering leaving the UK due to uncertainty surrounding their future.
Over a third of businesses revealed they would become unviable if they had no access to EU workers, with 17% looking to relocate overseas.
However, almost three quarters (70%) of respondents said they faced challenges when trying to recruit permanent employees locally and 63% said the same for seasonal/temporary positions.
The report also urges the government to legislate to secure the rights of EEA nationals working in the UK, review the recording of immigration data and invest in skills provision for the food and drink sector.
Ian Wright, director general, Food and Drink Federation said: "The UK food and drink supply chain ensures that consumers have access to the safe, affordable and delicious range of food and drink that they have come to expect. Food is a matter of national security, so the results of this report are of central concern to businesses across the ‘farm to fork' industries. It is only a matter of time before the uncertainty reported by businesses results in an irreversible exit of EU workers from these shores. This is a scenario that will hurt the UK culturally and economically.
"Without our dedicated and valued workforce we would be unable to feed the nation. This is why it is imperative that we receive assurances from government about their future, and that of our wider workforce."
The survey was co-ordinated by the Food and Drink Federation and conducted among members of the Association of Labour Providers; the British Beer and Pub Association; the British Retail Consortium; the Food and Drink Federation; the Fresh Produce Consortium; the National Farmers Union; and the British Hospitality Association.
Ufi Ibrahim, chief executive of the British Hospitality Association (BHA), said: "The findings of this survey strengthen those of our KPMG report published in March which highlighted that Britain's hospitality industry could face staffing shortfalls of up to 60,000 people per year after Brexit. There is a clear and urgent need for the UK Government to secure the rights of EEA nationals living here and to ensure there is no labour cliff-edge when the UK leaves the EU.
"The industry already has more than 100,000 job vacancies at any given time and the BHA has been clear about the risks to the growth of our industry if there is an abrupt end to freedom of movement from Europe. It is concerning that these staffing shortfalls could be replicated throughout the food chain. We recognise that immigration levels will come down in the years ahead and in response have developed a 10-year strategy to encourage more British people to work in our industry."
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