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Seasonal Workers

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th May 2020.

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Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

Will the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism indicate the impact of recruitment campaigns to provide seasonal workers for Scotland’s farmers?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

With your permission, Presiding Officer, Ms Gougeon may be better able to deal with that question, as I know that she has been working hard on that area.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you, cabinet secretary. I call the minister for natural affairs, Mairi Gougeon.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Campaigns to try to recruit seasonal workers have been running on a range of platforms not just in Scotland but right around the United Kingdom. For example, we have been working with Lantra Scotland, which has been running a skills matching service, and NFU Scotland is hosting a website to link directly to job opportunities with growers.

However, we are hearing from growers that, even though such websites have been getting tens of thousands of hits, there has been a low conversion rate and interest is not necessarily translating into applications.

When it comes to people taking up the opportunity to work on farms, they are not always able to commit to working for the whole season. There is a mixture of factors involved in that, as there will be a variety of reasons why people have gone for the job opportunities. For example, they might be furloughed workers who find that they have to return to work.

We are aware of how key this issue is to fruit and vegetable production, which is why we continue to closely monitor the situation and to engage regularly with producers and stakeholder representatives.

The Presiding Officer:

I believe that Mairi Gougeon’s correct title is the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, rather than the minister for natural affairs.

There is a brief supplementary question from Richard Lyle.

Photo of Richard Lyle Richard Lyle Scottish National Party

I know that the issue affects the minister’s local area. As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, I am interested to know what support is available to fruit and vegetable farmers who have concerns about workforce availability.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

As I said in my previous response, we have been working closely with the sector. Workforce availability is a standing item on the agendas for our weekly meetings with fruit and vegetable sector representatives.

Those meetings provide the opportunity for growers to discuss the problems that they are experiencing right now and for us, as a Government, to look at what we can do to support them in the challenges that they face. A recent example of our work with the sector was the production of sector-specific guidance on social distancing, as there are particular challenges in different areas. We are also working closely with the sector on potential activity to recruit migrant workers from the European Union. That work would normally happen and we continue with it.