Unite the union is joining together with European trade unions to call on the UK government and the EU to do whatever it takes to reach a trade deal that will save jobs in agriculture and food processing.
The UK is the single largest trading partner of the EU with a total value of food and drink trade of €47.5 billion in 2018. If the UK moves to trading on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms after 2020, agri-food goods would attract the highest level of tariffs, which the unions said would lead to “inevitable consequences on trade levels and jobs.”
EFFAT- IUF Europe together with its UK and Irish affiliates, SIPTU, Unite, USDAW, BFAWU and GMB have listed nine demands for the UK and EU negotiators to urgently consider, including opposing any physical infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, as well as the UK government not proceeding with the Internal Market bill.
In Ireland, the food drink agricultural sector is the most reliant part of the island’s economy on cross border activity. The current arrangement between the North/UK and the Republic sees an estimated 360,000 people commute and millions of goods and supply chain consignments cross each year.
EFFAT-IUF Europe said in a no-deal or bad deal scenario the food and beverage sector will be disproportionally affected. Highly integrated supply chains will be disrupted both in the UK and the EU. Businesses will be hit by customs and excise duties when importing or exporting, SMEs will be hit with delays to VAT repayments, and there is a vast potential for increased costs and delays.
Without a rapid change of course the current situation will lead to major disruptions and job losses in the UK as well as in a number of member states, the unions said.
The group of unions issued several demands it said was necessary to protect agri and food jobs.
- Oppose any finalisation of the Brexit process that will leave in its wake any physical infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and the UK;
- Agree on a tariff and quota free trade agreement as frictionless as possible
- Ensure a level playing field provisions notably on workers’ rights, that should not be limited to the free movement of workers but must cover the respect into law and practice of the whole EU social acquis and pertinent ILO standards;
- Protect the status quo and the full harmonisation in relation to technical barriers to trade including the use of fertilisers and pesticides and food labelling regulations;
- The UK to maintain the current protection of GIs (geographical indications) to protect jobs in rural areas and specific subsectors;
- Mobilise and protect the Good Friday/Belfast peace agreement;
- The Conservative government to urgently review its position and not proceed with the Internal Market Bill;
- Ensure the involvement of trade unions in the preparation, the monitoring and implementation of the trade agreement;
- Oppose any erosion of regulations and any attempt by the Conservative government to sell off regulations as a bargaining chip in any deal with the EU or future trade deals outside the EU.
Unite national officer for the food sector Joe Clarke said: “Although everybody within the food and drink sector has been working flat out in relation to COVID-19, we cannot lose sight of the importance of the Brexit negotiations and the need to deliver for working people – with the avoidance of tariffs via a good trade deal for all parties. The food sector between the UK and Ireland is inextricably linked.
“We must honour and adhere to the Good Friday agreement for all of our members and their families each side of the border.
“We call upon the respective governments of the UK and the EU to apply common sense and work tirelessly to ensure a deal for our members from a UK perspective, from an Irish perspective and from the perspective of European workers.”
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland said: “Unite represents tens of thousands of food, drink and agriculture workers who are vital to food security.
“As this joint statement demonstrates, as well as protecting safety, pay, dignity and security of everyone who works in this essential sector, we are also coming together with others to defend jobs, ensure standards and safe, healthy food.”