British meat firms are having to resort to paying £10,000 to £15,000 in one off costs to bring in staff from as far afield as Asia, as businesses struggle to recruit from local labour pools.
Nick Allen, BMPA chief executive, said just two of its members had already committed a total of £10m in the past 18 months to bring in staff from abroad because suitable UK candidates were not available.
“It’s an extra cost on top of wages that we never had before we left the EU. It’s also in addition to a near 20% rise in wages,” said Allen. “And to stay viable, these costs are having to be passed on to consumers, stoking food price inflation, and making British companies less competitive.”
Are Brits willing to work?
The BMPA said current advice for businesses to hire more Brits ignored two key considerations: Are they physically willing and able to do those jobs; and are they willing and able to move or travel to where those jobs are?
“It’s an inconvenient truth, but many British workers, whether they’re ‘economically inactive’ or not, are either reluctant or physically unable to take up jobs in certain industries,” Allen continued. “Meat processing is one of those industries that struggles to fill vacancies from the local population.
“This is partly a perception issue (which we’re working on), but the bigger and more intractable issue is the lack of geographical mobility and the physically challenging working environment, neither of which we can change, either for productivity reasons or for food safety reasons.”
Despite the struggles the food industry faces in securing fresh new talent to keep their businesses running, Allen said the Government is putting out mixed messages on the direction it wants to take for migrant labour.
Defra independent review into labour
The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ independent review into labour shortages in the food supply chain highlighted the need to allow more skilled and semi-skilled migrant workers into the country to take up vacancies we can’t fill from the domestic labour supply.
However, the ‘New Conservatives’ group of MPs’ new report called for it to be made much harder to source foreign labour and drastically cut migration, warning the failure to do so risked “eroding the public’s trust”.
“We can see that the answer lies somewhere between short term reliance on overseas workers and a longer-term shift in how this country perceives and values certain careers,” Allen concluded. “But we can only do this with the engagement and support of government, schools and education providers.”