Examination of Witness

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 14th February 2019.

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James Porter:

All the fruit and veg farms that supply supermarkets are Sedex registered and audited by the Sedex members ethical trade audit, SMETA. That is a pretty rigorous audit that looks at wages, accommodation, conditions and so on, and it is recognised globally. The Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority also monitors very closely what is going on. You are allowed to employ directly from the EU as a producer, but if you use an agency, it has to be an accredited agency. If you are discovered not to be using an accredited agency or not to be complying with the requirements of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board, you will be de-listed from supermarkets immediately and subject to the full force of the law.

We have quite a good track record from the last few years of not exploiting our workers. It is generally the case across the industry that most growers have a lot of returnees, and I think that is a sign that the relationship is symbiotic. I am very comfortable with where we are on that. I am happy to look at other ways of improving that oversight if that is what is needed to satisfy people.

I feel I ought to answer the earlier question about the 12-month rule, because I have not answered it. I am afraid it does not make any sense to me. I cannot think of any employment situation where you would employ someone for 12 months, train them up, show them the ropes and then they have to go away for 12 months.

On the £30,000 limit, I do not think the average wage in Scotland is £30,000, so I do not think that is a realistic number. We employ a lot of Romanian and Polish-speaking people. Generally, we have always promoted through the ranks, because otherwise there is a language barrier and because they have the experience of working on a job. Whether it is pruning blueberries, trimming strawberries or whatever, they know that job inside out. If you try to bring in someone from outside who has had no experience of that job, it does not really work. Our middle management level would come under that £30,000 limit, so it does not stack up. In fact, I think abattoir vets do not even earn £30,000, and I think an extremely high percentage—it might be 80%—are from—