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Meat industry hits out at new immigration rules

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The Government's new immigration rules risk throwing the meat industry into disarray, warned the BMPA. Image: Getty
The Government's new immigration rules risk throwing the meat industry into disarray, warned the BMPA. Image: Getty

Related tags labour shortage Regulation

The Government’s ‘one-size-fits-all’ £38,700 immigration rule will stoke food price inflation and spark a raft of equal pay claims that risk tearing the food industry apart, according to the head of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).

In a letter to the home secretary James Cleverly, BMPA chief executive Nick Allen urged the UK government to rethink plans to raise the threshold for how much foreign workers need to earn before qualifying for a skilled worker visa.

He claimed that forcing companies to take on overseas butchers at £38,7000 represented a 49% increase to current salary levels, currently around £26,200 for a worker int the UK.

Such a dramatic increase would spark a raft of claims for equal pay under the equality act 2010, as British workers would have the legal right to demand to be paid an equal salary for the same work as their newly arrived overseas colleagues.

Unable to absorb costs

Allen warned that food businesses simply could not absorb this sort of increase, especially when working on margins as little as 2%. Instead, it would stoke food price inflation which would be passed on the UK consumer.

“Unfortunately, there is a perception that UK businesses utilise migrant labour as a ‘cheaper option; to UK-based labour. This is simply not the case,”​ said Allen. “The skilled worker route offers our industry access to labour that we are unable to source within the UK and is already at a significantly higher cost than recruiting a UK-based worker.”

With the UK already experiencing a drought of skilled butchers, food businesses are stuck between a rock and a hard place. As Allen pointed out, manufacturers would be left with just two options – contract their businesses and reduce the amount of food they produce, or import more from abroad. Either way, the industry would take a long-term systemic hit.

Animal welfare issues

Initially, this would result in animal welfare issues as livestock starts backing-up on farms with not enough processing workers to handle the volume.

“We therefore ask that the Home Office ask the Migratory Advisory Committee to add butchers onto the Immigration Salary List, which would mean that they could apply the lower salary thresholds,”​ Allen added.

“This would still mean an overseas worker would be earning £30,960 which is a considerable increase from the current £26,200. Even this lower increase in the threshold will have a damaging impact for the businesses that have to find the extra money and will stoke food price inflation as higher overhead costs are passed-on.”

Meanwhile, ‘Not for EU’ labels create unneeded cost​ and make UK food and drink producers less attractive to investors, according to the head of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

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