Pig sector facing labour shortages in run-up to Christmas

Labour shortages could put the pork sector under additional pressure in the run up to Christmas, according to the NPA.

Fears that the UK could run short of traditional Christmas favourites like pigs-in-blankets have hit the headlines over the past week, after British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen told the BBC it had become harder to attract and retain EU staff since the 2016 Brexit referendum.

He highlighted the fall in the value of the pound, which has reduced wages relative to what workers can earn in other EU countries, and the message coming out of the UK was ‘not exactly welcoming’. “Ever since Brexit happened, it’s become hard to hold on to European labour,” he said, adding that it was difficult to attract UK nationals to work in meat plants.

Previous NPA surveys have highlighted the pig sector’s reliance on EU labour, and shown how businesses across the sector fear Brexit will make it harder to find and retain the staff that they need.

NPA senior policy adviser Ed Barker said: “One of the greatest barriers to the growth of the UK pig sector is in finding sufficient staff who are available and willing to work in our abattoirs and on our farms.

“Pigs are reared continuously, all year round, not seasonally. The majority of roles in abattoirs or on farms is usually permanent, meaning that individuals working in the sector have to think seriously about their employment future and opportunities for their family, as opposed to seasonal labour which provides greater flexibility.

“The pig sector relies heavily on permanent labour from the European Union. The availability of workers from these countries has slowly worsened over the past three years, as a direct result of the fall in the value of Sterling against the Euro, making their cost of living much higher.

“It cannot be overlooked that the Government’s lack of certainty surrounding future migration policy, including a no deal Brexit, has also exacerbated this already difficult situation.

“With pig farmers and processors facing regular staff shortages, there are concerns that orders will struggle to be met for the Christmas period – one of the busiest times for the UK pig sector.”

The NPA has repeatedly called on the Government to ensure its post-Brexit immigration policies retain access to permanent EU labour for sectors like ours.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.