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17 June 2021

FT: UK meat industry cuts production as Brexit labour shortages bite

Industry ‘heading for brick wall’ and calls on government to relax immigration rules

Labour shortages are causing the UK meat industry to cut production and warn that it will soon be unable to meet orders unless the government relaxes post-Brexit immigration rules. The British Poultry Council (BPC) said throughput in the industry — which usually processes some 20m birds each week — had fallen by 10 per cent since Easter, because of the shortages of workers across farming and processing.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), a trade body which represents companies in the beef, pork and lamb industry, said the sector was “heading towards a brick wall” as a result of labour shortages. Processors were “between 10 and 11 per cent” short of full capacity, and many were now being forced to prioritise some products and increase overtime payments to meet demand. “One or two have said to me that they are only one or two weeks away from failing to deliver to retail customers and saying to farmers that they can no longer take animals off the farm,” he said.

The warnings follow similar reports of labour shortages in hospitality, trucking and construction — sectors that have relied on a flow of EU migrants to fill jobs that are unpopular with UK workers because they do not pay well enough to make up for tough working conditions. The shortages are starting to bite sooner than expected because the pandemic prompted many EU nationals to return home and they cannot easily be replaced by other migrant workers, as most of the jobs fall below the skill and salary levels needed to qualify for a visa under the new regime.

“We hit the wall in terms of labour at Easter,” said James Hook, managing director of PD Hook Hatcheries, which supplies half the chicks and a third of the chickens sold in the UK. His farms had around 80 posts vacant at present, double the usual level, but the “pinch point” was in factories where shortages were more acute. He has cut production by around 10 per cent because “there aren’t enough people to take what we can give them”. ...

more at FT

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