One in five fish processing workers could be hit by hard Brexit - Seafish

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 11 Oct 2017

NEW figures from industry authority Seafish suggest 18 per cent of Grimsby’s fish processing workforce could be affected by a hard Brexit.

The organisation, which has its English base in the town, has completed the first phase of a major piece of work, which revealed the Humber to be less exposed than other clusters, even at a ratio of almost one in five workers.

Humber Seafood Summit, taking place at Cleethorpes Pier today (Wednesday, October 11), heard that equates to more than 1,000 of the 5,000 plus employees working for processors large and small.  

The figures emerged after a short pre-recorded welcome from Fisheries Minister and Leave campaigner George Eustice, who had outlined "fantastic opportunities" with an independent coastal state.

Hazel Curtis, chief economist for Seafish, said: “We were aware there were a lot of workers from EU countries in fish processing factories in the UK, especially since 2004 when Eastern European countries joined. We knew it was big in some places, you could go into factories and see health and safety notices written in Polish.

“After the vote to leave the UK, the industry became concerned about the ability to go on relying on these people. Industry people were expressing concern to Defra at a meeting in January, and it was agreed rather than have industry saying ‘we have a lot of EU workers, it is a big problem if they have to go home’ that a generic expression of concern would be a stronger, more robust argument – some independently collated hard data.”    

Hazel Curtis and Simon Dwyer.  

HARD DATA: Hazel Curtis and Simon Dwyer at Humber Seafood Summit.   

A total of 109 companies, covering 118 processing sites responded, representing 70 per cent of the seafood processing sector.

It found nationally that 57 per cent are UK workers, with 42 per cent from the EU.

Of those, 86 per cent were permanent, with the balance in agency employment, with a clear rule of the “bigger the factory the higher proportion of EU workers.”

Revealing the Humber to be at 18 per cent, Mrs Curtis said: “Here in the Humber it is a much smaller percentage, still substantial and significant, and you still notice the gap if these people are not here.”

Grampian had figures of 70 per cent, underlining the threat, with the potential for work to be further consolidated in areas like Grimsby, where scale and capacity is huge, mooted as the figures were discussed on the floor.

The Government’s Migration Advisory Committee has been given the data, so too devolved authorities.

MORE: Icelandic Brexit boost as key seafood supplier seeks to deepen relationship with UK

And it seems workers aren’t waiting for March 2019. “Things have been changing already,” she said. “We conducted a short survey with agencies and people from Poland are now less likely, they are coming forward in smaller numbers, to work in fish processing in the UK. Agencies have to recruit in Bulgaria and Romania to find candidates.”

Seafish is now looking at running quarterly surveys to bring even more accurate data forward, with the new figures not taking into account the seasonal uplift in work as winter approaches.

Simon Dwyer, secretariat to Grimsby Fish Merchants’ Association and a key part of cluster organisation Seafood Grimsby and Humber, said: “We have 5,000 jobs and it is an interesting statistic that we could be looking for another 1,000 to replace the 18 per cent we could lose.”

Heavily involved with skills and logistics in the industry, he was asked about the ability to cope with a hard Brexit should that materialise.

“If we were given enough time we could fill some of the gap,” he said. “The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, came here during the election campaign and was talking about this topic. His solution was to automate things. It is a message that has gone out to agriculture. Picking Brussels sprouts and turnips can be automated but I did point out it is difficult to automate what we do, and industry-wide people recognise that.

“We have a vibrant economy here because of other things going on in other sectors. If prepared, we will tackle it, but hopefully there will be a solution somewhere along the line.”

Addressing the wider Brexit issues, Mr Dwyer said: “Trade is important to Grimsby and access to labour is going to be very important. Frictionless borders too. Trucks leave the north and west coasts of Norway, an EEA country, and drive through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Belgium and France before driving to Grimsby. That takes five days. We don’t want that increasing in any way and we don’t want to be burdened with documentation issues. Grimsby has also had tremendous access to European fisheries funding.

“We have got to maintain competitiveness, keep jobs in the area. The outlook for Grimsby from a risk management approach is that we are proactive, we work closely with the seafood industry to get the message out there. We want to secure supply, if we haven’t got supply we haven’t got an industry. We need to maintain out huge appetite for processing fish and work with colleagues at Seafish to get consumption up.  We do recognise we need to innovate and invest, and we need to make some noise about Grimsby.”

A new initiative to have a stamp on produce “Made Great in Grimsby” is being pushed forward, with an existing marker, the GG on the product code also flagged up. “Remember to look for it when in the freezer of fresh fish cabinet,” he said.

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