The British Poultry Council has said that food producers are facing serious staff shortages due to Brexit, as this week’s partial closure of Nando’s chain threw focus on issues made worse by the fallout from Covid.
The union said its members, which include 2 Sisters Food Group – the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chickens, said every sixth job was vacant as a result of EU workers leaving the UK after Brexi.
It has already been there turkey shortage warnings this Christmas as the shortage of delivery drivers, slaughterhouse staff and other workers increases wages and other costs.
British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said the group had written to Home Secretary Priti Patel this month asking the government to relax immigration rules but had not yet received a reply.
Last week, KFC said supply chain problems disrupted their food and packaging stocks nationwide. Supermarkets have also struggled to fill shelves amid a severe shortage of HGV drivers.
“We have experienced a loss of staff throughout the supply chain, especially in our member companies,” Griffiths said. “Our members are currently reporting up to 16% of vacancies as a direct result of the restriction of immigration policy, and we ask the government to facilitate them and look at skills and development.”
In July, Ranjit Singh Boparan, the billionaire’s founder of 2 Sisters, said the “ping-pong” – which forced a large number of healthy workers to isolate themselves after being “pinged” by NHS tests and tracks – simply masked an industry already at a crisis point due to Brexit-related labor shortages.
Within its 16,000 employees, the majority of whom work in its production facilities for chicken and ready meals, 15% of the jobs were vacant. Brexit had “acutely reduced available workers across the food sector” with entry-level jobs hardest to fill, 2 sisters said. The company also struggled with the rising cost of ingredients, wage inflation and covid-related absenteeism, he said.
“The critical work issue alone means we are going a tightrope every week at the moment,” said Boparan, who warned that without government help, food waste would hit “simply because it cannot be treated or delivered”.
The British Poultry Council said raising wages to attract domestic workers was not the answer. The industry’s experience in recent years had been that “the will and availability just isn’t there within the UK workforce”, Griffiths said.
“We operate in areas that generally have a high level of employment, so the availability of British labor is just not there,” he told the BBC, pointing to staffing problems in the hospitality trade as well as the chronic shortage of HGV drivers.
“We are only part of the supply chain, and that affects everyone. We are not alone here. This is a massive issue that needs to be addressed across the industry and the government needs to recognize the issue. ”
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