The Government has announced that it will make more 10,000 temporary visas available for HGV drivers and poultry workers, but has so far rejected calls for visas for butchers to be included to help ease the growing backlog of pigs on farms.
On Sunday Defra announced that up to 5,500 poultry workers will be able to work in the UK ahead of Christmas 2021, delivered through the Temporary Workers route.
This followed the Department for Transport’s announcement that up to 5,000 drivers will be able to come to the UK to transport food and fuel in the run up to Christmas.
Recruitment for additional short-term HGV drivers and poultry workers will begin in October, but this route will only be valid until December 24.
Defra said the decision will ensure that farmers and food producers have access to the necessary workforce to mitigate any potential risks to Christmas food supply.
Defra Secretary George Eustice said: “It is a top priority to ensure that there are enough workers across the country’s supply chains to make sure they remain strong and resilient. We have listened to concerns from the sector and we are acting to alleviate what is a very tight labour market.”
However, the announcement has angered those working in the pig sector as the crippling backlog of pigs one farms grows, currently standing at well in excess of 100,000, and the industry seeks solutions to get pigs moved off farm as quickly as possible. Some processors are offering to take more pigs, in some cases for sale with minimal butchering to Asian markets, but at reduced prices for producers.
Responding to the Defra announcement, Lincolnshire producer Meryl Ward, who is suffering is suffering serious problems on her farm, said on Twitter: “Disgraceful that Govt recognises crisis for poultry but not pigs. Will Govt explain why pigs’ welfare is less important than Boris’ Christmas dinner?”
NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw welcomed the announcement, which following an industry-wide letter to the Prime Minister earlier this week asking him to urgently implement a Covid Recovery Visa to alleviate labour shortages.
But he added: “We will also continue to work with government to find solutions for the wider labour needs, including trained and able butchers for pork production to deal with the increasingly serious build-up of pigs on farm and the risk of welfare issues.”
Food and Drink Federation chief executive, Ian Wright, also welcomed the Government’s ‘pragmatic decision’ to temporarily add HGV drivers and poultry workers to the existing visa scheme.
“This is a start but we need the Government to continue to collaborate with industry and seek additional long term solutions,” he said.