The Rural Workplace – Migrant Workers – For Better or Worse?

In 2016 Scottish Rural Action asked its member networks what issues, challenges and opportunities faced rural Scotland. You told us you wanted to “make rural areas more attractive places to live and work”; to see a “diversity of opportunities and creation/maintenance of sustainable employment”; and to “help retain people and encourage more to live in rural areas.”

Just simply you identified a “lack of rewarding employment”, “a lack of skilled jobs” and “the lack of opportunities for young people to develop skills and businesses in rural Scotland”.

You said – “Young people want more business/jobs to relocate/be started in rural areas so they can thrive and have a rural life rather than move away to the central belt/England/overseas.” For those seeking employment opportunities you wanted to “create jobs, skills, tourism and financial security. But not just for seasonal work.”

But the rural employers amongst you identified problems in sourcing skilled employees. Problems in just finding staff. You said “lack of staff is holding back business, leading to having to refuse some business, and not offering the quality of service that would be wanted.”

Scottish Rural Action’s Business, Enterprise and Employment Working Group is set to examine issues of pay and workplace conditions, including access to training and career progression, in the part-time, insecure and seasonal labour markets in the rural workplace.

These employment conditions commonly affect a variety of sectors in the rural workplace. Rural tourism and hospitality, the caring sector and landbased businesses are all affected by seasonal, low paid and insecure employment offering scant training and career progression opportunities for the rural workforce.

There are big changes coming. Land reform could revolutionise how Scotland works, but it could also threaten long established workplace patterns. You said “with large country estates being quashed and sporting estates being frowned upon. What about employment? What happens to the estate workers, gamekeepers etc and their families? Where do we go to work?”

And who knows how Brexit will affect us all. If we lose free movement who will pick our fruit, care for our oldies and keep our rural tourism businesses functioning? One element says Scotland needs people, but you also said “Losing our people and at the same time offering poor paid work to poor eastern Europeans and refugees is perverse”. So how does the use of migrant workers affect the terms and conditions offered in the rural workplace? For better or worse?

Scottish Rural Action is calling for an open debate on how to improve rural workplace conditions. If we want to work and live in the places we grew up in and love, to enable our young people to stay, what do we need to change? Can we “create new employment opportunities in roles that are traditionally under-valued or unpaid”. That’s your question. Help us to find an answer.

The SRA Business, Enterprise and Employment Working Group will be opening the debate by holding a workshop on migrant workers and their effect on the rural workplace at the AGM and Conference in Dunfermline on September 20th. Please join us.

But don’t wait till then. Let us know your thoughts on the rural workplace, what’s wrong with it and how to improve it by emailing Mary Williams Edgar at

And if you’ve experience of employing seasonal migrant workers, as a land based business owner, fruit and farming, meat or dairy, or as a gangmaster, the SRUC, commissioned by the Scottish Government, has a survey for you…..

Seasonal Migrant Workers in Scottish Agriculture

SRUC (Scotland’s Rural College) has been commissioned by the Scottish Government to study seasonal workers in Scotland’s agricultural sector in summer 2017.

Scotland’s agricultural sector relies heavily on seasonal non-UK workers, particularly from central and eastern Europe, to meet its labour demand. However, there is a lack of detailed information about the numbers of migrant workers in Scotland and their living and working conditions.

Labour conditions and wage rates are key concerns for the Scottish Government, but the issue of migrant workers has taken on greater significance following the UK’s decision in June 2016 to leave the EU.

The research project includes three phases, and will run on into Autumn 2017:

Phase 1: A survey of farm businesses that directly employ seasonal workers on their farms and with labour providers who supply workers to the agricultural sector in Scotland. These surveys can be found online here.
Phase 2: Survey work with non-seasonal (i.e. permanent) agricultural farm workers in Scotland to gather their perspectives on the working conditions of seasonal workers.
Phase 3: Survey work and qualitative in-depth interviews with seasonal agricultural workers themselves to understand the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors in their decision to come to Scotland, their migration pathways between different countries, regions and farms, their living conditions, and their future aspirations.
NFU Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates have both voiced their support for the project. James Porter, Chairman of NFUS’s Specialist Crops Committee, has said: “Access to labour is vital for Scottish agriculture, with sectors such as soft fruit and field vegetables being completely dependent on non-UK harvest workers. We encourage all growers to participate in this survey, to provide the hard facts that will back up NFU Scotland’s message on the importance of the availability of workers post Brexit.”

Echoing this sentiment, David Johnstone, Chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We are living in unprecedented times with Scottish agriculture facing some challenging years ahead. As we look to the future it will be vital that the Scottish Government has access to the most up-to-date information so that it can make informed policy decisions. Scottish Land & Estates would encourage participation in this survey so that we can make the right choices and secure the best future for Scottish agriculture.”

For more information about the project, please contact Jane Atterton at the SRUC –

Emma Cooper


Emma joined SRA in 2014 and was our Chief Executive until February 2019. She is going to be touring in a mega motorhome so might be out of touch with us for a while.

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