As reported by The Morning Advertiser's sister title The Grocer last week, according to the British Poultry Council, 60% of the workforce (24,100 people) in UK meat industry are EU nationals.
The current estimation of the annual turnover of staff is 30%, which means the industry has approximately 7,200 vacancies that needs to be filled with non-UK workers every year.
However, this year has proved challenging for the meat sector because the uncertainty around Brexit has prompted many workers to seek jobs in other countries.
Putting food on the table
British Poultry Council public affairs and public relations manager Shraddha Kaul said: “Nearly 1bn birds are reared for food every year, providing half the meat that the country eats.
“In order to guarantee access to safe, affordable and nutritious food in the coming years, the Government must ensure that food producers have continued access to labour to continue to put food on every table.
“If these vacancies cannot be filled, we will not have access to the labour needed to feed this nation, which will have a significant impact on the production of and, therefore, cost of food.
“This, in turn, would pose a risk to the affordability of British food.”
Pubs want boneless meat
The British Meat Processors Association represents the majority of companies working in the British meat industry, handling beef, lamb and pork products.
It’s subject to supplying fresh meat products to retailers, restaurants and foodservice companies throughout the UK.
However, British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen said the increasing requirement for more boneless fresh meat rather than carcasses among pubs and restaurants has pushed for more labour, capital investment and management.
“Over a long period, the industry has found it very difficult to recruit additional workers to meet these new demands from consumers from the UK workforce.
“The industry has been adding value and saving work in the kitchen, by deboning, trimming, cutting and packaging the primal cuts.
“It also requires higher skilled staff and managers.”
The pool of labour
Allen added: “Migrant workers have not replaced UK workers but added to them.”
However, Allen said many meat processing plants operate in areas of low employment where there aren’t enough labour resources available.
“A big multi-site BMPA member needs 1,500 agency workers a day, yet many of its plants are in areas where local unemployment is less than 2%.
“Companies were already seeing a shortage of staff as EU nationals respond to the drop in the value of sterling and the uncertainty about their long-term future in the UK.”
Allen argues there is simply not enough workforce to fill the requirements of meat processors.