A focus on longer-term solutions that promote resilience is necessary to managing the ongoing labour crisis, says the British Poultry Council.
Following the British Poultry Council’s appearance at the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee’s inquiry into Labour Shortages in the Food and Farming Sector, Chair Neil Parish MP has asked the Prime Minister to lead immediate action on visas for migrant labour to counter shortages.
Graeme Dear, Chairman of the BPC, was invited to give evidence alongside Charlie Dewhirst of the National Pig Association, NFU’s Tom Bradshaw and Derek Jarman of the British Protected Ornamentals Association. The panel mutually agreed that a combination of the pandemic and reduced access to EU labour was a cause for concern across food production, farming and hospitality, and that “very urgent action” was necessary to manage “the acute worker shortage.”
Mr Dear said: “As the industry that provides half of the meat eaten in this country, I do think of us as resilient. We are investing, we are automating to improve technology and we want to upskill and invest in our domestic workforce…we just need some support. I would like for Government to continue to work with us, to listen to us, but more importantly, believe in us and trust in us…I think there is an opportunity to build a system that works for everyone.”
The letter from the Chair of the Committee, copied to senior ministers, welcomes initial steps taken by the Government to grant additional visas to the poultry meat sector, but argues that longer-term solutions to labour shortages are necessary. Mr Parish said it was clear the sector understood the need to use domestic workers and to invest in necessary technology. However, he said such solutions could not be delivered overnight, to echo evidence put forward by the British Poultry Council.
The British poultry meat industry welcomes the short-term intervention from Government following their pledge to ‘save Christmas,’ but suggests that issues with seasonal turkey production are reflective of longer-term year-round production and that a more permanent solution is necessary.
BPC Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, said: “Labour shortages, driven by the effects of Brexit and compounded by factors such as the pandemic, have demonstrated the importance of adopting realistic policies that enable British businesses to drive productivity, create good jobs and keep food moving to strengthen food security in a thriving country post-Brexit.
There can be no meaningful change without productivity. If we are to ensure the robustness of supply chains going forward, we must build resilience into their core. That resilience translates to certainty in our workforce and realistic policies securing enough people to feed the nation.
Poultry meat businesses are determined to strike a balance between a skilled workforce and investing in technology. The industry has concrete plans to invest in the resilience of our supply chain, but we must have time and space to ensure investment in technology and people can be realised. We need a system that works proactively in food production, actioning realistic measures to support supply chains in the longer-term.”
As producers of half of the meat eaten in this country, the British Poultry Council calls for:
- The implementation of a similar scheme designed for non-UK labour to enter the UK over a period of two years to ensure industry has the space and time to upskill a British workforce and invest in new technologies. The announcement of the scheme must take place in Spring 2022 to make the opportunity meaningful to both employers and employees.
- Financial support from Government-backed loans to help businesses accelerate investment plans to automate and upskill the British poultry meat industry as quickly as possible.
- Vital food production to be kept at the heart of skills and education programmes such as the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to support meaningful change that will maximise the productivity of a future-proof sector. Proper investment in the Apprenticeship Levy will support in levelling up the appeal of the sector to build a skilled UK workforce.
The British poultry industry understands that this is a process that will take time and are asking for support to ensure that the right technology is rolled out, the right skills programmes are in place and the right investments are made to maintain the integrity of supply chains. Mr Griffiths said: “Technology, a focus on skills and education and a non-UK workforce can coexist temporarily to avoid jeopardising our ability to feed the nation.”
Please find a copy of the written evidence submitted to the EFRA Committee by the British Poultry Council below:
Please find a copy of the letter sent from the Chair of the EFRA Committee to the Prime Minister below: