Farm and food industry leaders are begging the Scottish Government to reconsider its policy on key workers and prioritise anyone who is critical to maintaining the food supply chain.
Last week the UK Government classed anyone involved in the food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery network as a key worker, enabling their children to go to school and free up their parents to work, but the Scottish Government is leaving decisions on key workers to individual councils.
Not all councils have yet published guidance, but according to Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers, Perth and Kinross Council are not classing those in the food processing sector as key workers, Fife Council has not yet made a decision, and Angus Council is using the Category 3 designation which refers to workers without whom there could be a “significant impact” on the country.
Aberdeen, where more than 15% of Scottish food manufacturing takes place, has not designated food workers as key, and around 20 local authorities have yet to make a decision.
Mr Withers made his frustration clear in a pinned tweet: “Do we want to protect food supply in Scotland or not?”
The farmers’ union’s president, Andrew McCornick, said leaving decisions to local councils was “haphazard” and not good enough in a crisis situation.
He added: “The farming industry isn’t localised – my lambs, for instance, could be sent to any processing plant in the country – so we have appealed to the cabinet secretary to urgently reconsider this policy and give us clarity.”
Andy McGowan, the chief executive of Scottish Pig Producers, said the majority of the Brechin pig abattoir’s 70 jobs were on the front line, processing animals.
He added the latest guidance he received from Angus Council was that individual applications would have to be made, and derogations given depending on how critical the role was judged to be.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “As we have set out, we are working with local authority partners to identify as quickly as possible which jobs will receive key worker designation.”
Meanwhile, the farmers’ union has developed a new online portal to publish a list of local fruit and vegetable producers who are looking for workers.
The farms include East Scryne, Carnoustie; Stewarts of Tayside, Glencarse; Cronan Farm, Coupar Angus; Easter Grangemuir, Pittenweem; Channel Farm. Kinross; and the farm labour organisation Ringlink which has offices in both Cupar and Laurencekirk.
Applicants are asked to access information on the NFU Scotland (NFUS) website, nfus.org.uk , and apply to the individual farms using the contact details provided by each business.
Union president Andrew McCornick emphasised the agricultural industry was facing a shortage of seasonal migrant labour due to the pandemic, and said the website link was one tool to help farmers who need labour to advertise their positions to those who have suddenly found themselves out of work.
He added: “Many farmers and growers are going to be badly affected by a lack of foreign workers available due to Covid-19, just when they are needed for planting and harvesting of fruit and vegetable crops.
“In these unprecedented times it is important that we work together to help provide jobs for those needing them while at the same time maintaining the flow of the home-produced, healthy food which Scotland’s farmers, crofters and growers are known for.”