The profession has been added to the Shortage Occupation List (SOL), due to difficulties in filling roles in this field, particularly by those trained in the UK and ahead of the UK’s impending exit from the EU, which is expected to cause further disruption to the meat industry’s labour force.
Veterinary surgeons had previously been added onto the SOL in 2008 and removed in 2011, due to the supply and demand gap being closed, in part because of the availability of recruits from Europe.
The review found that, in the meat sector, 95% of the veterinary workforce graduated overseas, with the “clear majority of these coming from the EU”. It stated that working in UK slaughterhouses was not generally considered attractive to UK citizens qualified as veterinarians.
In the study, it was highlighted how much the issue had grown between 2015 and 2018. Citing a survey conducted by the British Veterinary Association (BVA), it found that the percentage of advertised vacancies receiving no applications had increased from 1% in 2015 to 5% in 2018. Similar adverts receiving three or fewer applicants has increased from 31% in 2015 to 44% in 2018.
The BVA survey reported that the top reasons given for obstacles to recruitment were lack of applications, no suitable applications at CV/application stage and no suitable applications at interview stage.
The MAC recommended a full review of high- and medium-skilled jobs if and when a new immigration system was implemented, and said migration rules should be relaxed for workers on the SOL.
Jason Aldiss, managing director of veterinary services company Eville & Jones, called on whoever replaces Theresa May as Prime Minister to act quickly on the issue with Brexit looming, which would further impact the availability of foreign workers. “MAC chairman Professor Alan Manning states that all recommendations outlined in the report are only applicable under the current immigration system, which incorporates EU free movement.
“Should Brexit happen and free movement end, the UK in general and the veterinary, meat processing and agricultural sectors, in particular, will suddenly find ourselves in even more perilous positions than at present.
“With the UK due to leave the EU on 31 October, we need further assurances from the leadership candidates on what the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system will look like under the Government they lead and that it will include full access to the overseas veterinary professionals our country desperately needs.”
The National Sheep Association (NSA) also lent its weight to the appeal for a change to migration policy. NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said the issue extended beyond vets to all those who worked in the abattoir sector. “The White Paper sets out a vision for the UK’s future migration policy and it’s very worrying to see that its definition of ‘skilled work’ totally neglects a significant area of what most would consider a skilled occupation. This includes general abattoir workers, without which the UK sheep industry could not function.
“There are many jobs in UK agriculture, with tough working hours and conditions. The UK domestic workforce is failing to fill them, and this is not due to migrant labour undercutting wage rates. These migrant workers are vital for our continued workforce, they contribute positively to our economy and do essential work that cannot be filled domestically. We urge the Government to reconsider its proposals to recognise that.”
Stocker added that the suggestion to introduce a 12-month cooling-off period for short-term workers wouldn’t work in the abattoir environment. “This is designed to prevent people working in the UK permanently. While I understand this may work for some areas, such as those requiring seasonal workers, this does not work for abattoirs. It takes significant time, work and costs to train the staff and, accordingly, it is only right for the abattoirs to be able to retain them.”