SAMW warns meat supply “in serious danger of collapse” over labour crisis
The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) has told the Scottish Government that there is a risk of empty shelves at Christmas, even if the labour shortage is now addressed urgently.
At an all-industry meeting with Scottish Government ministers, SAMW warned that even if the Government acts now to resolve the shortfall, meat supplies will still be under pressure towards the end of the year.
In a statement following the meeting, SAMW stressed: “The UK Government is responsible for ensuring there is sufficient food for the nation and the current situation surrounding labour shortages in the meat processing and distribution network is putting that responsibility in serious danger of collapse later this year.
“SAMW member companies, who process almost all of Scotland’s red meat output, currently have a labour shortfall of 10-15% in relation to staff needs for meat processing plants. In addition, labour shortages in the haulage sector are making it increasingly difficult to secure any one-off requirements to collect raw materials from farms or any equivalent one-off requirements to deliver end product to retailers.”
Gaps on retail shelves
SAMW stated that although the current situation was already “extremely worrying”, the organisation believed that it would become worse as the year progressed, continuing:
“This is a relatively quiet time of the year, certainly as compared with the autumn and pre-Christmas period when demand can be expected to rise sharply. At that point, there is a real risk that supplies will run short and gaps will begin to appear on retail shelves.
“Even if Government acts now to address this crisis situation, it is likely that meat supplies will still be under pressure towards the end of the year. Many of our sector’s missing 10-15% of workers returned to their home countries during the final weeks of the Brexit process and are not showing any signs of being willing to return.
“If the Government does nothing, however, deciding to wait and see, we believe there will be a serious shortage of product by late 2021. We repeat, it is the Government’s responsibly to ensure the country has sufficient food and this responsibility to in danger of not being met this year.”
Skill sets not available in UK
SAMW is calling for action from the Government now, with the priority being access to EU workers this year. Suggestions include providing such workers with short-term visas and adding trades such as butchers to the shortage occupation list.
The statement concluded: “We have been told many times, of course, to go out and recruit staff from the existing UK workforce. While we continue to do this as part of our own efforts to resolve the current crisis, members’ experience to date is that the skill sets required by meat processing companies are not currently available in the UK, certainly not widely available. We are also competing for staff with many other sectors of the UK economy who are currently under-staffed, such as the hospitality sector and online businesses.
“Finally, training new staff to work in meat processing is at least an 18 to 24-month operation, a timeline which does not equate with the food needs of the country’s consumers.”