Author: Jennifer McKiernan
Politicians have held crisis talks with government officials calling for changes to immigration rules for fishermen and fruit pickers to help protect both industries.
Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil claims labour shortages have led to half a dozen fishing vessels from the Hebrides going out of business because they cannot find crews for their boats.
Mr MacNeil met Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes at Westminster to call for visas for fishing crews to be included on the shortage occupation list.
This could help make it easier for non-European workers to come to the country to fill labour gaps.
However, Mr MacNeil said he left the meeting concerned about the future of the industry.
He said: “It’s like speaking to a brick wall.
“This is the sixth immigration minister I have spoken to about this issue but she just said she had the Tory manifesto and the UK economy to think about.
“I have been playing ministerial roulette and they are all obsessed with immigration figures rather than the fact the future of the fleet is in danger.
“If this keeps going, another three or four immigration ministers down the line and we will have no fleet left to worry about.”
Mr MacNeil said he would now contact Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs Secretary Michael Gove to ask him to intervene.
Meanwhile, Conservative Angus MP Kirstene Hair, also appealed for visa changes to be introduced for soft fruit industry workers. A shortage of staff has left firms in Scotland in difficulty with fresh produce left to rot in the fields.
However, the poltician is also facing an uphill battle with her calls for the reintroduction of seasonal agricultural workers (SAW) visas.
Ms Hair raised the issue at Westminster’s home affairs committee following evidence from an employment expert about the damage removing the SAW scheme in 2013 has done to the industry.
“It is a matter of urgency that a new system for seasonal migrant workers is put in place,” she said. “This issue was prevalent prior to the 2016 Brexit vote; however the urgency has escalated somewhat in the past few years and we now see significant shortages in the agricultural labour market.
“Agricultural businesses across the country need certainty on the future of their labour supply, otherwise production will be under threat, and harvests may be left to rot as some farmers began to witness last year.
“I look forward to the Home Secretary’s response to the concerns laid out in the Committee’s letter, and will continue working to secure a replacement scheme for seasonal migrant workers.”