Comment: The labour situation is truly dire

By Mark Williams, chief executive, British Egg Industry Council

The BEIC along with a range of sector and industry organisations representing British food, drink, farming and agriculture have joined forces, to call on the UK Government to implement a ‘Covid Recovery Visa’ to help solve the chronic labour shortages across the entire food production and supply chain. These sectors have told the Government in no uncertain terms that the situation is dire, due to the unprecedented shortages of workers.

The NFU led report ‘Establishing the labour availability issues of the UK food and drink sector’, to which the BEIC contributed, identified that there are an estimated 500,000 unfilled vacancies across the sectors. It is important to also note that the National Food Strategy ‘An independent review for Government’ identified that by 2024 there will be 140,000 vacancies in the food processing sector alone.

The BEIC joined a roundtable convened by the NFU to discuss possible short- and long-term solutions to the crisis that has led to empty shelves on some products in many supermarkets across the country, in extreme cases for some sectors, food is being left to waste on farms and at production plants. Labour availability in the laying hen sector has been an issue for some time, but due to Brexit and the pandemic, it has reached breaking point.

The British egg industry, unlike many other livestock sectors, operates seven days a week, 365 days a year, without significant seasonal peaks in demand, such as at Christmas time. We have continued to stress that we need a long-term and permanent solution to labour and recruitment and have tried to encourage people to enter skilled employment within our sector through initiatives such as the Lion Training Passport, and the British Egg Academy. However, these are developments that are designed to help the situation years from now, they will not fully resolve all the problems and certainly not at the present time.

British agriculture is united on the short and long-term measures needed to resolve the crisis. These are:

  • The introduction of a 12-month Covid Recovery Visa which would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles as a short-term response to labour shortages
  • Commitment to a permanent, revised and expanded Seasonal Worker Scheme for UK horticulture to ensure it is flexible and large enough to meet the industry’s workforce needs
  • An urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care

The BEIC stresses that solutions must be found that are permanent and enduring to prevent any further reoccurrence of a crisis like this. The British egg industry supply chain has managed to remain fully operational, and continues to provide consumers with a safe, nutritious, and affordable product, despite the challenges we are facing. However, we continue to stress to Government that we cannot guarantee that this will continue in the face of an ever-worsening situation regarding labour availability.

We have urged the Government to immediately implement the measures that have been identified.

On a different matter, the on-line workshop, held on 13 September, on ‘Notifiable Avian Disease: Joint Poultry Industry/Government Workshop on the lessons learned in the 2020/21 AI ‘Season’, was a great success. With the threat of Avian Influenza ever present, I would recommend you view the presentations which contain some useful material to help you protect your business. Copies of the presentations can be obtained by emailing beic@britisheggindustrycouncil.com

 

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