The Scottish salmon industry has a shortage of processing workers, says Salmon Scotland's Tavish Scott.

Salmon farmers join call to let in more foreign workers

Scotland’s salmon farmers have added their collective voice to calls from the food and drink industry for more flexibility in the UK’s immigration system to help address labour shortages.

Published Last updated

Tavish Scott, chief executive of trade body Salmon Scotland, urged the UK Government to add fish processing to its shortage occupation list to make it easier for firms to recruit labour from the European Union.

He said fish processing is suffering from a workforce “squeeze”, particularly in the farm-raised salmon sector.

Crops 'left to rot'

In a summary of its findings on Labour shortages, House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee writes:

“The food and farming sector has been suffering from acute labour shortages due principally to Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. In August 2021, the number of vacancies was estimated to be 500,000 out of 4.1 million roles in the sector.

“We found clear evidence that labour shortages have badly affected the food and farming industry - threatening food security, the welfare of animals and the mental health of those working in the sector.”

It adds: “The food sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector but faces permanent shrinkage if a failure to address its acute labour shortages leads to wage rises, price increases, reduced competitiveness and, ultimately, food production being exported abroad and increased imports.”

Labour shortages across the sector were “causing crops to go unharvested and left to rot in fields, healthy pigs to be culled, and disruption to the food supply chain’s just-in-time delivery model”.

It recommends that the UK government must:

  • Learn lessons from the temporary short-term visa schemes of autumn 2021, as their late announcement limited the sector’s ability to take advantage.
  • Make a step change in how it engages with industry, taking seriously the concerns they raise and acting promptly on them.
  • Review aspects of the Skilled Worker Visa scheme that act as barriers, including the English language requirement and the complexity and costs involved in a visa application.
  • Build on its expansion of the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme to the ornamentals sector and: increase the number of visas available by 10,000 this year; make the scheme permanent; and commit to announcing visa numbers in future on a rolling five-year basis.
  • Work with industry both to tackle the immediate labour shortage facing the sector and to develop a long-term labour strategy that combines the development and deployment of new technology with attractive education and vocational training packages to entice British-based workers, so reducing the sector’s dependence on overseas labour.

Long-term strategy

In a letter to UK environment, food and rural affairs secretary George Eustice, Scott joined the chief executives of four other Scottish food and drink organisations in calling for the recommendations of a new report by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee to be urgently implemented.

These include a recommendation for the UK Government to work with industry leaders to address labour shortages, and to develop a long-term labour strategy.

The letter, signed by Salmon Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, Seafood Scotland, Scotland Food & Drink, and National Farmers Union Scotland, warned that the Scottish food and drink industry is suffering from “acute labour shortages”.

Restricting growth

The organisations wrote: “This labour force issue is affecting the ability of our producers and manufacturers to serve customers both at home and abroad, restricting growth and curbing exports.

“The committee makes a number of recommendations, including a call for government to work with industry to address labour shortages and develop a new, long-term strategy to ease the situation for years to come.

“We support the committee’s recommendations and call on you and your department to deliver the step change requested by the MPs.

Access to labour

“Our members have the ability to thrive and help the country recover from both the long-term effects of Covid and the additional costs of Brexit caused by non-tariff barriers.

“But, to do this, we need proper access to labour, and this can only come with the help and support from the government.”

Scott said: “Fish processing, particularly in the farm-raised salmon sector, is suffering from a labour squeeze, and we want the government to help by implementing the recommendations in the committee’s report.

“Salmon Scotland believes fish processing should be added to the short-term occupation list. This would make it much easier to recruit labour from the EU.


“We want to see more flexibility in the UK’s immigration policy, and a long-term strategy to ease this situation in the years to come.”

Fish Farming Expert understands that workers on a salmon processing line earn an average basic wage of £21,000 per year, although that figure doesn’t include overtime, shift allowances or bonuses.