Byrne calls for action to protect local food producers

pete byrne

Slieve Gullion SDLP Councillor Pete Byrne has called for action from the UK Government to safeguard the local horticulture industry in the face of an ongoing labour crisis.

The Northern Ireland Mushroom Growers Association (NIMGA) has warned that NI’s Mushroom Industry will “disappear” in the next few years if the UK Government does not move to include the role of mushroom picker on its Shortage Occupation List (SOL).

Councillor Byrne tabled a motion at Newry Mourne and Down District Council calling for the UK Government to respond to the demands of local industry and ensure the continued viability of local producers.

Slieve Gullion Councillor Pete Byrne said: “I have been working with local producers and their clear request to the UK Government is that pickers and harvesters are added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL) so that they are able to secure the workers they need to get their food to market.

“The Irish Government introduced a Rest of the World visa for workers in the horticulture industry to work for up to five years. This is in addition to access to labour from EU member states through freedom of movement. By comparison, the UK Government only allows fruit and vegetable growers to employ migrant workers as seasonal workers for up to six months at a time, with four of those months as mandatory training. This puts the North’s horticulture industry at a profound disadvantage compared to their competitors in the South.”

“On a recent visit to C&L Mushrooms with owners Gerard & Mary Fegan, I had the opportunity to see the scale of investment they have made in their operation. Gerard & Mary are leading a vibrant local business, but they are under huge pressure. Vacancy rates across the mushroom industry are in excess of 15% which risks driving up prices and threatening the future of the industry – that requires government action.

“The UK Government has opened a review into its Seasonal Worker Visa, but with Stormont and the Executive still collapsed, the only way pressure can be applied is through Council. That’s why I brought this motion forward - to ensure that our local food producers are being represented and that their voices are being heard.

“Local food producers are under enormous pressure, and it’s incumbent on the British Government to step in and respond to the industry’s call for help.”


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