Migrant red tape could rock food and drink sector

Posted on 1 May 2009 by The Manufacturer

Jack Matthews, chief executive of the food and drink sector skills council Improve, has launched a scathing attack on government for making it difficult for firms to access migrant workers.

Under the Worker Registration Scheme (WRS), migrants from Poland, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Czech Republic and Hungary, which joined the EU in 2004, must pay £90 and submit their passports before being allowed to work in the UK. The burden of administering the scheme often falls on employers.

The WRS was supposed to end last month but will now be extended to the end of April 2009 when an EU-wide open borders policy comes in. Matthews said this extension showed “a lack of empathy” on government’s part with food and drink manufacturers who rely on migrant workers.

According to research by Improve, a third of food and drink manufacturers in the UK benefit from migrant labour, with over 70% of those workers coming from the eight Eastern European countries in question here.

“Once again I fear this is a case of the government playing for votes rather than listening to the needs of UK businesses,” said Matthews.

“Over the past couple of years, we have seen applications to the WRS scheme fall sharply and that is leaving food and drink companies short of a necessary labour source. All this extension to the scheme is doing is adding an additional, unnecessary burden on companies as they try to recruit workers they need here and now.”

Improve fears this move could further increase a skills gap in the food and drink manufacturing industry. More than a quarter of firms in the survey by the skills council said they expect falling numbers of migrant workers coming into the country to impact negatively upon productivity.