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Yorkshire firms hit by fall in migrant workers

Fall in numbers of migrant workers threatens the stability of the region’s £8 billion industry. Food and drink manufacturers in Yorkshire have warned that a fall in numbers of migrant workers is threatening the stability of the region’s £8 billion industry.

Yorkshire is now so reliant on tens of thousands of eastern European workers that the region’s economy would be plunged into crisis without them. The new, cheap and readily available workforce has become so vital to scores of the region’s companies that they could be forced out of business without them.

A new study published by Improve, the York-based food and drink sector skills council, reports that 30 per cent of food and drink companies in Yorkshire and Humberside now employ workers from abroad, with an average of 23 employed per company.

But the report also found evidence that, after a period of rapid increase sparked by the admission of several eastern European countries to the EU in 2004, numbers of migrant workers are now falling, as people from Poland, Lithuania and other Baltic states are returning home or looking to alternative European destinations to find work.

Ministers in the past have been warned urgent action is needed against exploitation of these workers. Migrant workers often have pay packets up to a third lower than their British counterparts as well as enduring squalid living conditions crammed into sub-standard housing after they have arrived in Britain.

Half of Yorkshire food and drink employers said low numbers of migrant workers would leave them with job vacancies, while just under a third said that it would lead to skills shortages and a drop in productivity. Overall, 69 per cent companies said employing migrant workers had a positive impact on their business.

Improve chief executive Jack Matthews said: "These findings will be of great concern to many people in the industry. The issue is that food and drink companies turn to migrant labour because they cannot find staff in the numbers they need at home."

It had nothing to do with low wages of migrants or them having better skills. "Companies use migrant labour out of necessity, and they have a significant and positive impact on the industry.

Calling for a discussion by key stakeholders in the industry, he said: "We need to ask ourselves whether we are over-reliant on migrant labour at the same time as we consider what we can do to retain valued workers from other countries."

Government figures show that applications from nationals of the most recent EU accession states to work in food and drink manufacturing in Yorkshire fell by 11.3 per cent in 2007, the first decrease since 2004.

The number of non-EU nationals applying to work in sectors such as meat, seafood and fresh produce, also decreased – by 81 per cent.

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West England economy based on migrant workers