Chapter 8: Labour
Both the catching sector and the seafood processing industry in Scotland have a significant dependence on non-UK labour.
In the case of the seafood processing industry, a survey undertaken by Marine Scotland’s Marine Analytical Unit in 2016 found that an estimated 41% of processing industry workers were from the UK, 58% were from EEA countries and 1% were from non-EEA countries.
In the case of the catching sector, approximately 27% of the overall workforce are non-UK nationals, of which approximately 8% are from the European Economic Area (EEA) and 19% are from non-EEA nationals (the majority of which are from the Philippines).
For the seafood processing sector, an important consideration following EU exit is maintaining free movement of labour from the EU. In addition to access to labour, however, flexibility in terms of recruitment is also a key issue; reflecting the fact that recruitment on a seasonal and short-notice basis is required, as well as recruitment for permanent roles.
In relation to the catching sector, current visa arrangements mean that non-EEA workers are not covered by UK employment law, leaving them vulnerable to poor working conditions, low pay and, in some cases, exploitation. For example, as non-EEA workers are confined to working outwith the 12nm zone, they are not eligible for the National Minimum Wage. Similarly, by restricting the rights of non-EEA nationals to reside in the UK, the existing visa situation results in many non-EEA nationals being compelled to reside on vessels for prolonged periods; often without adequate on-board accommodation and facilities - this is clearly not acceptable.
The Scottish Government believes that existing UK immigration rules may be indirectly contributing to the maltreatment of non-EEA workers; both by compelling them to reside for long periods on vessels ill-suited for that purpose and by severely limiting the employment and residence rights which they are granted in the UK.
In addition to continuing to benefit from free movement of people from the EU, our preferred outcome would be devolution within a UK framework of immigration powers allowing the Scottish Government, accountable to the Scottish Parliament, to set criteria for additional international migration routes to start to meet Scotland’s most acute needs. We would also wish to take the opportunity to rethink the UK immigration system to design a new regional approach, with powers for the Scottish Parliament to meet Scotland’s full range of needs. This would include the establishment of a visa route for non-EEA workers in the Scottish fishing fleet, clearly recognising the skilled nature of these workers and providing appropriate employment rights and legal protections, but also ensuring flexibility and accessibility of labour for employers. It is recognised, however, that this is a longer term aspiration.
In the meantime, the Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that all businesses in Scotland can attract, and retain, a sustainable labour supply to meet current and future needs. We recognise that non-UK labour is an integral part of the business models of many existing fishing businesses in Scotland and, as such, acknowledges that ongoing access to non-domestic labour is likely to be required in the foreseeable future to ensure the continuing success of the industry. The contribution of these workers, both to our economy and society, is recognised and valued.
We are clear, however, that in delivering our aspiration of making the fishing industry a desirable career choice, and to ensure ongoing sustainable growth of the industry, all those working in the industry (regardless of nationality) must be paid and treated fairly. In particular, where any individual or business is fishing under the authority of a licence issued by the Scottish Ministers, it is our very clear expectation that that individual or business takes active and demonstrable steps to meet Fair Work principles and prevent exploitation. The growth of the fishing industry should not only be sustainable – it must also be inclusive and ethical.
Notwithstanding our position on devolution of migration powers, and recognising the currently reserved nature of immigration, we believe that the UK Government should introduce a new work permit system (or, at the very least, restore the previous visa extension scheme).
We want to see the catching sector sign up to the Scottish Living Wage. Fair Work sets out a very clear expectation of Scottish Ministers and, as such, workers of all nationalities should be paid fairly. We want to consider how we make Fair Work First work in the fisheries sector.
We will continue to work with the Lord Advocate and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to ensure that cases of trafficking and exploitation in the fishing fleet are investigated and prosecuted.