Short-term visas for HGV drivers and poultry workers are not a long term solution to the labour crisis now gripping the UK food chain.

Warning that the shortage of qualified workers 'isn't just about Christmas', NFU Scotland has called on the UK government to 'go further' by introducing a 12-month Covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain to deal with the immediate problem, and thereafter allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers.

The union also wants an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the Shortage Occupation Lists so that it accommodates the acute permanent labour needs of agricultural sectors like dairy, pigs and poultry, as well as wider recruitment gaps in food and drink processing and packaging.

A recent survey of NFUS soft fruit and vegetable growers estimated that there was a 20% shortfall in seasonal workers and the union is looking for the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme to be replaced with an improved and expanded permanent scheme that works for both farm businesses and seasonal migrant workers.

These labour issues were top of the agenda when NFUS vice president Andrew Connon and regional chair Colin Ferguson met with Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack in his Dumfries and Galloway constituency at the end of last week.

NFUS chief executive Scott Walker commented: “The Government now recognises there is an issue that must be addressed. While the focus around labour shortages has been on Christmas goods and fuel, the impact of the labour crisis, affecting both permanent and seasonal staff, is being widely felt among our membership and that needs a meaningful, long-term approach.

“This isn’t just about Christmas, and it isn’t just about making sure there are enough turkeys or fuel to go round. There’s an awful lot more that needs to be done by the UK Government to really solve the labour crisis that we are facing.

“The whole Scottish food and drink supply chain has been highlighting the crisis and the solutions needed for many weeks now," said Mr Walker. "Short term visas around haulage and poultry processing may provide short term relief to supply issues but long-term solutions are what is needed.

“At farm level, farmers are making business decisions now," he stressed. "If permanent and seasonal staff are not going to be available then they will need to scale back production and restructure accordingly. That will have knock on effects for consumer choice and would be a step backwards for a Scottish food and drink industry committed to growing in value to £30 billion by 2030.”

The SNP also criticised the UK government's temporary visa scheme, saying that it had not gone far enough to protect sectors vital to Scotland’s economy such as food and drink and agriculture.

Immigration spokesperson, Anne McLaughlin MP, said: “The temporary visa scheme is yet another half-baked solution from the Tories in response to the ever-growing problems arising from their hard Brexit – and it completely sidelines Scotland.

“While the SNP Scottish Government is doing what it can with its limited powers to provide solutions, such as promoting fair working practices and providing upskilling and retraining opportunities, it is working with one hand tied behind its back whilst migration remains reserved to Westminster and the UK government continues to sit on its hands.

“I am urging the Home Office to do its job and fix the migration system so it works for all parts of the UK. Scotland should not have to pay the price for a Brexit we didn’t vote for.”