His comments follow a survey conducted by the Association of Labour Providers, which found that more than three quarters of food and drink firms expect chronic labour shortages in 2021.
BMPA chief executive Nick Allen pointed out, the people and skills needed by the industry were not available in sufficient numbers in the UK, with the country now facing the imminent threat of the closure UK production lines and buy from overseas suppliers.
“Companies are already having to reduce the throughput at their plants because of a lack of both staff and also lorry drivers to deliver the products,” Allen explained. “This problem will only get worse in the run-up to Christmas as we head into the busiest period for the industry.
He recognised the difficulty producers have faced in attracting British workers to a career in meat processing despite rising salaries, a shortfall in skills and labour that has been filled by EU workers for whom this kind of work proves lucrative and satisfying.
“Under the new immigration rules, that source of labour has dried up,” Allen continued. “And companies are also reporting an increasing exodus of their EU workers who are opting to work for European companies. All this means is that we now have five times more vacancies than normal.
Started with Brexit
“Our problems started with Brexit, and COVID has made them worse. With pubs and hotels starting to open up, demand for labour has become more acute across the entire food industry and nobody can find an easy or quick solution.”
Allen criticised the lack of action seemingly being taken by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to help resolve the food industry’s issues.
“The stock answer we get out of Defra is that they’re working closely with the Home Office to ensure a long-term strategy for the food and farming workforce beyond 2021,” he added. “The problem is that we need workers right now in June 2021.”