Business

'Thousands' of production jobs at risk by leaving the customs union warns Unite

The UK leaving the customs union threatens the loss of thousands of local food and drink production workers, a trade union has warned.

LEAVING the customs union threatens the loss of thousands of local jobs within the food and drink production sector, a trade union has warned.

Unite has said food and drink processing workers in Northern Ireland could suffer if the UK leaves the customs union as part of Brexit negotiations, with a shortfall of migrant workers already putting a strain on the sector.

The comments come after British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said yesterday that any form of customs union with the EU after Brexit would be a "complete sellout" for the UK.

Unite regional officer, Sean McKeever has called for local political parties to use their Westminster seats to secure a UK-wide Brexit deal guaranteeing tariff-free market access.

"The food and drink sector in Northern Ireland employs more than twenty thousand in Northern Ireland and underpins the demand in the wider agricultural sector as well as that in border areas," he said

“We are very concerned as bosses in the sector have Brexit plans which would redirect production to those sites which can better secure labour supply. In one case we are aware of, corporate management are already moving to establish a production base on the continent due to difficulties in obtaining migrant workers here in Northern Ireland.

"Since the referendum vote, we've already seen a sharp downturn in the number of migrant workers coming to work in border-based, agri-food businesses, but despite this they remain a large component of the workforce. In the context of a Tory, hard Brexit, those numbers are likely to drop further threatening the long-term viability of border production sites.

“Alongside the migrant workers, thousands of local people are dependent on these jobs and the scale of production at the company provides vital demand for the rural economy. The impact would be devastating," he said.

Mr McKeever believes that if the UK Government cannot secure a customs union agreement with the EU a hard border is "unavoidable".

"The only question is whether this hard border will be on the island of Ireland or on the Irish sea. Either option is very bad news for the agri-food sector. A land border will make it next to impossible to meet labour demand; a sea border will pose severe challenges for an industry whose products are destined overwhelmingly for Great Britain consumers."

It is in everyone's interests in Northern Ireland that the UK remains within an EU customs union and avoids the impact that a hard border will have on our economy and on the working-class”, he added.

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