Food Processing Sector: Labour Shortages

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:30 pm on 20th September 2021.

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Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP 3:30 pm, 20th September 2021

T8. Mr Irwin asked the Minister for the Economy whether there is anything that he can do to resolve the shortage of workers in the processing sector, which is impacting on farms, especially pig farms, in Northern Ireland. (AQT 1578/17-22)

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I understand the concerns that the Member and, indeed, others have expressed about labour market shortages, not just in the sectors that he mentioned but in other sectors as well. We see that across Northern Ireland and the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Ultimately, this is an issue for the Government, and, along with party colleagues and Executive colleagues, I have been in contact with the Home Office in particular in relation to this issue. This is down to the Government and their immigration rules, and I hope that we can get to the point where those rules are changed so that we can have that flexible and agile immigration policy and, if the shortage is as a result of a lack of workers from outside the UK, that can be remedied. In addition to that, we need to make sure that we have the skills and the pathways available to those who need them.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

We have time for a very quick question and a very quick answer.

Photo of William Irwin William Irwin DUP

I thank the Minister for his response. He will be aware that the issue is causing a lot of expense and grief to farmers, and we will end up in a welfare situation where pigs are backing up on farms and cannot be got away.

Photo of Gordon Lyons Gordon Lyons DUP

I completely agree with the point that the Member has made. The point on the animal welfare issue in particular is one that the Minister of Agriculture, Edwin Poots, has made in his representations to the Government, and I hope that they will be listened to and acted on as soon as possible.

Photo of Alex Maskey Alex Maskey Sinn Féin

Members, time is up. Please take your ease for a moment or two as we move to the next item.

(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr Beggs] in the Chair)