UK’s National Farmers’ Union (NFU) has called for an emergency visa to allow firms to recruit from outside the UK, as labour shortages continue to hurt critical sectors of the UK economy.
The issue of labour shortages is not a recent phenomenon as the current trend has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, causing farmers, haulers and shops to struggle.
The President of the NFU, Minette Batters, addressed a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson warning that the food and farming sector is on a “knife edge” due to a shortage of workers across the entire supply chain.
The letter, signed on behalf of a number of food and drink trade bodies, urged the government to introduce a Covid-19 recovery visa to open up new recruitment opportunities as a matter of urgency.
“Without it, more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try to get through the winter.
“That is why we must have an urgent commitment from you to enable the industry to recruit from outside the UK over the next 12 months to get us through the winter and to help us save Christmas.”Minette Batters, Head of NFU
According to her it is “a travesty that this is happening in parallel with UK food producers disposing of perfectly edible food as it either cannot be picked, packed, processed or transported to the end customer”.
“Every day there are new examples of food waste across the industry, from chicken to pork, fruit and vegetables, dairy and many other products. The food is there, but it needs people to get it to the consumers.Minette Batters, Head of NFU
Govt’s action to support supermarkets
The letter was signed on behalf of other groups such as the British Frozen Food Federation, the British Meat Processors Association, Dairy UK and the Food and Drink Federation.
Recently, it was reported that Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket chain, had warned the government that panic-buying this Christmas could be worse than during lockdown.
This notwithstanding, Tesco came back to say: “We have good availability, with deliveries arriving at our stores and distribution centres across the UK every day.
“While the industry-wide shortage of HGV drivers has led to some distribution challenges, we’re working hard to address these and to plan for the months ahead, so that customers can get everything they need.”
The NFU has said that only 11 per cent of seasonal workers in the 2020 season were UK residents.
Responding to the NFU’s call for support, the government increased the number of visas available under the Seasonal Worker Pilot (SWP) from 10,000 in 2020 to 30,000 this year.
Also, haulers and food firms have also been warning of a chronic shortage of lorry drivers, which they also ascribe to the pandemic and Brexit.
A government spokesperson said that the UK’s supply chain is “highly resilient” and has coped well when faced with recent pressures.
“We continue to work closely with industry to understand labour demand and supply, including both permanent and seasonal workforce requirements.”
Separately, the government has mentioned it has taken action to prevent supermarket shortages with a deal to restart production at CF Industries, the UK’s biggest producer of carbon dioxide.