British Poultry Council Chief Executive, Richard Griffiths, was invited to give oral evidence in the EFRA Committee’s investigation into Labour in the Food Supply Chain.
Alongside Tim Rycroft (Food and Drink Federation) and Simon Doherty (British Veterinary Association (BVA)), Richard Griffiths offered evidence and answers to questions which will determine the impact of a new points based immigration system on the British poultry meat industry when the UK leaves the EU at the end of 2020.
Richard Griffiths has previously said on the subject: “The Immigration Bill must not label ‘key workers’ in food production who have worked incredibly hard to keep this country running throughout the coronavirus crisis as ‘low skilled’. COVID-19 has reinforced the importance of self-belief and dignity that comes wrapped up in food. It has brought an unusual kind of recognition for food workers who were upgraded in the public rhetoric from ‘low-skilled’ to ‘essential’ to running the country. The Government must acknowledge that the food on the nation’s dinner tables under lockdown is being produced in large part by the people who their proposed policy undervalues. It must recognise food production as a vital asset to UK’s sovereign capability and treat food as a national security issue. With the UK beginning a new chapter outside the European Union, it is more important than ever to adopt policies that enable businesses to drive productivity, create good jobs and strengthen our food security in a thriving, independent UK post-Brexit.”
Here’s a quick snapshot of the EFRA select committee proceeding, featuring a selection of video and written responses from the British Poultry Council.
Impact of the proposed Immigration Bill on poultry industry
Chair of the Committee, Neil Parish MP (Tiverton and Honiton – Conservative) asked the witnesses how important access to labour from the European Economic Area (EEA) is and what will happen if it’s limited.
Richard – The poultry industry is moving forward with plans to develop technology and innovation, so there is certainly cause for optimism. However, the issue with labour is that the industry has 40,000 direct employees of which 60% are from EEA countries. These workers cannot be easily replaced. We need certainty to encourage those who are here to stay and encourage new people to come. It is important to emphasise this is not an ‘either, or’ issues – we must both embrace technology and maintain a properly defined ‘skilled’ workforce.
Robbie Moore MP (Keighley – Conservative) asked the witnesses about the skillsets of their workforce and what it means to be ‘lower-skilled’.
Richard – Many of the EEA workers in poultry are in the ‘lower-skilled’ bracket, but this is a definition created by the Immigration Bill. The poultry industry focuses on upskilling and ensures that everyone becomes skilled and qualified to difficult jobs.
Derek Thomas MP (St Ives – Conservative) asked the witnesses why recruitment in the food sector has focused on the EEA.
Richard – There is both a lack of availability and willingness on the part of the domestic workforce to join the food sector which has led to a greater focus on EEA migrant labour. Ultimately, the poultry sector is market driven and must respond to these pressures. However, it remains the case that the industry has a responsibility to raise awareness and educate the general public more on food production and agriculture.
Ian Byrne MP (Liverpool, West Derby – Labour) asked the witnesses what steps they are taking to attract domestic workers.
Richard – The key avenues through which to attract domestic workers are apprenticeships and graduate recruitment. One of the key things is that people should look at the industry and see clear career progression and professional improvement. The industry needs to look after its people and provide a source of employment for communities. There’s much more to do to demonstrate to local communities that factories and workers are part of that community, and this is where trade unions can help in bridging the gap between the factory and community.
Sherryl Murray MP (South East Cornwall – Conservative) asked the witnesses how COVID-19 has impacted on the labour supply.
Richard – The key labour challenges have been around illness. In light of the long-term trend of labour leaving the industry, this meant that some companies were on a knife edge in terms of business viability during the peak of the crisis. The crisis has also illustrated the importance of particular roles in the supply chain. Ultimately, the industry was moderately successful in filling roles with domestic workers but questions remains as to whether those people will stay over the long-term.
Julian Sturdy MP (York Outer – Conservative) asked the witnesses what the potential impact of too few workers will be on their industries.
Richard – Once you begin to lose capacity, it’s very difficult to rebuild. This can then lead to aggressive trade competition and the possible diminution of standards. Overall, the BPC remains very concerned about possible inaccessibility to ‘lower level’ labour (as defined as the Immigration Bill) following the end of the transition period.
Read our written evidence submitted to the EFRA Committee here:BPC-EFRA-Evidence-Labour-Supply-10July2020