Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus B MacNeil has hit out at a Home Office decision to refuse help to the West Coast fishing industry to address the ongoing crew shortage crisis which has led to multiple boats being tied up across the Western Isles.
Mr MacNeil met with Immigration Minister Robert Goodwill MP in December together with representatives from the Western Isles fishing industry; the Philippine Embassy; Argyll and Bute SNP MP Brendan O’Hara and Northern Irish MP Margaret Ritchie.
During discussions they urged the Minister to consider reintroducing a scheme which would allow non-European Economic Area workers to work in the industry.
The Minister agreed to look at the detail of the previous scheme, however he has now written to Mr MacNeil refusing to take any action stating it would not encourage the industry to increase efforts to secure crew from the resident workforce and said it was not the Government’s policy to ‘introduce migration schemes for non-EEA nationals to meet labour needs at lower skill levels’.
Mr MacNeil said the response showed a total indifference to the needs of the industry and that describing fishing as a lower skill level was inaccurate.
He said: “This is bad news for the Scottish fishing industry and for the West Coast communities where many skippers are struggling to crew their vessels leaving boats tied up in the harbour.
“The hopes of the industry, the West Coast communities and also the Filipino diplomats of finding a solution to this crisis have been dashed by a disinterested third party in London who really have no stake in this, but do have the power and the control to determine the outcome.
“Once again we have London putting its hand around the neck of the Scottish economy.
“It’s been known for a long time that we need people to come and work on the West Coast of Scotland particularly in the islands where unemployment is half the national average and there has been a shortage of crews for boats for some time.”
He added: “To class fishing as a lower skill level is to misunderstand the industry and is inaccurate, anyone who has spent a day at sea knows it is a demanding and dangerous job which requires a wide skill set.
“Everyone knows fishing is skilled despite what a Tory Government with a clipboard says.
“To suggest that the reintroduction of a scheme would ‘entrench a reliance on non-EEA labour’ is simplistic and fails to give credit to the industry which is striving to ensure a positive and sustainable future for West Coast communities by coming up with a solution to the problem.
“The UK Government have rejected a workable proposal without offering any alternative solutions. They have simply abandoned the industry when they were in a position to assist.”