Labour Crisis: Government needs to step in ‘before it gets worse’

By Gwen Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

Staff shortages are only going to get worse if the Government doesn't step in, according to the SAMW
Staff shortages are only going to get worse if the Government doesn't step in, according to the SAMW

Related tags: Drinks, Meat & Seafood, Supply chain

The labour shortage experienced across the food and drink supply chain will only get worse, unless the Government steps in now to prevent serious damage, according to members of the food and drink industry.

In a recent industry meeting with Scottish government ministers, the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SMAW) said the meat industry was at serious risk of collapse due to labour shortages across both processing and distribution.

“While the current labour shortage is already extremely worrying, our assessment is that the situation will become far worse as we move into busier meat demand periods,”​ the SAMW warned.

“However, this is a relatively quiet time of the year – certainly as compared with the autumn and pre-Christmas period when demand can be expected to rise sharply. At that point, there is a real risk that supplies will run short and gaps will begin to appear on retail shelves.”

Government needs to act now

Even if Government acts now to address this crisis situation, it is likely that meat supplies will still be under pressure towards the end of the year, the SAMW claimed.

“If the Government does nothing, however, deciding to wait and see, we believe there will be a serious shortage of product by late 2021,”​ the organisation added. “We repeat, it is the Government’s responsibly to ensure the country has sufficient food and this responsibility to is danger of not being met this year.

“Clearly, we need action from Government and we need it now, a point we made forcefully to ministers this morning. Our priority request is to that we need access to EU workers to operate our businesses this year. One option is to provide such workers with short term visas – say for two years. We also need the government to include butchers, etc. on their shortage occupation list (SOL).”

Commenting on the labour shortages felt throughout the logistics industry, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) urged the Government to do more the help the industry tackle the increased strain being placed on the food and drink supply chain.

‘Papering over the cracks’

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: “Extended hours for hauliers only papers over the cracks of the delivery staff shortage being experienced in sectors across the UK.

“There is still plenty of beer to go around, but more action is urgently needed from the Government to rectify this issue both immediately and in the medium term.”

Paul Empson, general manager at Bakers Basco, warned that the problems were only going to get worse unless something is done.

He argued that depleted fleets, an ageing workforce, Brexit and changing legislation had created a perfect storm that urgently needed Government intervention before the supply chain really collapses.

‘We’ll all end up paying for it’

“At the end of the day, fewer drivers means greater cost to the consumers – so we’ll all end up paying for it somehow,”​ said Empson.

“Surely there’s a simple solution here – what about additional tests provided to speed up the backlog? How about a real push on advertising the benefits and qualification of being a HGV driver? Although the world of driving is a tough role in itself; long hours, hard work and at times can be stressful on the great British roads.

“But does the average person on the street know that the UK average salary is £35k per year and that a HGV driver can earn anywhere between £30k–£40k depending on the company and type of goods delivered?”

A real push to promote the benefits of logistics and haulage jobs on the UK would do well to dispel some of the bad press associated with these roles, Empson added.

“That would be a sure-fire way of turning this driver shortage crisis around and getting back to what we do best – delivering food between wholesalers, suppliers and their customers.”

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