Meat production at risk thanks to COVID staff shortages

By Gwen Ridler contact

- Last updated on GMT

One in 10 meat workers ahve been forced to self-isolate by the NHS COVID App, claimed Allen
One in 10 meat workers ahve been forced to self-isolate by the NHS COVID App, claimed Allen

Related tags: coronavirus, Meat & Seafood

Meat production lines are at risk of shutting down due to the NHS COVID App, as its alerts force workers to self-isolate, according to the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).

BMPA chief executive Nick Allen said between five and 10% of its members’ workforces had been ‘pinged’ and told to self-isolate by the app, which is designed to flag people who have been in close proximity with those infected.

“This is on top of the desperate shortage of workers that the industry is already suffering​,” he continued. “As a result, companies are having to simplify down their range of products to compensate for key skills being removed from their production lines.

“If the UK workforce situation deteriorates further, companies will be forced to start shutting down production lines all together.”

Shortage Occupation List

The BMPA successfully called on the Government to add butchers to the Migratory Advisory Committee's Shortage Occupation List, which would allow the industry to temporarily fill the growing vacancies with skilled overseas workers until the current crisis had passed. However, no further progress had been made in that area, according to Isla Roebuck, outgoing president of the BMPA​.

This was a sentiment shared across many areas of the industry, including the likes of the Association of Labour Providers. Chief executive David Camp said: “The government needs to immediately extend the T5 temporary seasonal worker visa to critical sectoral roles such as HGV drivers, meat and poultry processors and work collaboratively with industry on a coherent future workforce and skills strategy”.

Speaking to the BBC’sToday ​programme, Allen added: “People are cutting down on product ranges to get by. They’re trying to rationalise the lines they’re offering so that they require slightly less butchery.

“The objective is to try and keep food on shelves, so you prioritise that and there’s a lot of juggling you can do to cut down those production lines.”

Labour crisis

COVID-related staff shortages are the latest hurdle experienced by the food and drink industry in an ongoing labour crisis that continued to threaten the entirety of the UK supply chain.

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) has already warned that the meat industry is at serious risk of collapse​ due to labour shortages across both processing and distribution. The group called for Government intervention before it was too late for them to make a difference,  

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

Meanwhile, publication of the second part of Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy has sparked calls for change across the UK food system​ in order to support the future of food supplies.

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