BMPA warns labour shortage is at “critically high level”
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has yet again called on the Government to act over the labour situation in the meat industry, warning that further deterioration will mean companies having to suspend production lines.
BMPA has been warning about the critical shortage of labour for some time, a situation the association says has been merely exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nick Allen, CEO of BMPA, said: “The latest feedback we’re getting from the front line is that the shortage of skills and workers for permanent positions is reaching a critically high level. We’ve heard reports of plants having between 10% and 16% vacancies even before absenteeism due to Covid is factored in. On top of the underlying worker shortage, we’re also hearing from some members that between 5% and 10% of their workforce have been ‘pinged’ by the app and asked to self-isolate.
“There’s a real air of despondency creeping through the industry. Every morning, management meetings in meat plants up and down the country now start with the questions: ‘Who’s turned up to work? What skills are we missing today? and how can we quickly re-arrange our production to keep the plant running?’
“Depending on which staff show up for work, different product lines will be affected. But, in general the shortage of workers affects products that require more labour to produce, and it’s these lines that are the first to be cut.”
Guidance changing “hour by hour”
BMPA stated that supply chains are right on the edge of failing but to date, the association and other industry representatives have still not managed to get any definitive guidance from the Government. As Sir Keir Starmer pointed out in this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, the Government’s guidance on key worker exemptions from self-isolation is “changing hour by hour”, with contradictory statements given over the last few days providing no help for companies wanting to plan and manage production.
Nick Allen added: “According to the latest verbal advice we’ve been given, we think that exemptions will be very selective and difficult to qualify for. At this stage we understand that companies may have to apply separately for an exemption for each individual worker. This would throw up an added wall of bureaucracy and be completely unsuited to managing a fast moving-production line that’s made up of people with multiple different, but equally vital skills.”
He concluded: “If the UK workforce situation deteriorates further, companies will be forced to start shutting down production lines all together. So, it’s for this reason that we’ve been calling on the Government for months to add butchers to the Shortage Occupation List, which would allow the industry to temporarily fill these growing vacancies with overseas workers until the current crisis has passed.”