BMPA gives evidence at EFRA inquiry on meat industry labour shortages
The British Meat Processors Association gave evidence this week at an Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Select Committee inquiry into the challenges to the food supply chain posed by shortages of workers.
During the session, Fiona Steiger, BMPA Deputy Director, along with Gudrun Ravetz, Senior Vice President of the British Veterinary Association, covered the key concerns of the UK meat industry, which relies heavily on migrant labour and which will be one of the sectors most affected by Brexit.
It was encouraging to hear the Chairman, Neil Parish assure witnesses that their comments would be passed on to ministers.
The uncertainty surrounding the status of EU nationals post Brexit is already having an impact, with the main reasons for EU workers leaving their jobs in the UK meat industry cited as uncertainty of residency status and a weak pound. With 95% of veterinarians working in British abattoirs not originating from the UK, the potential for disruption is stark.
With 95% of veterinarians working in British abattoirs not originating from the UK, the potential for disruption is stark.
Automation, while it would be part, but only part, of the solution to labour shortages in the future, Ms Steiger told the Committee, that is very much in the future and was not an answer to the abrupt and rapid change in labour availability since the referendum.
Ms Steiger stated that a worker registration scheme should be available for people coming into the UK for a job that was streamlined, non-punitive, not too expensive for either the individual or industry and, crucially, gave workers the right to stay for at least two years and preferably three. Ms Steiger also emphasised the need for the definition of ‘skilled workers’ to not be based solely on academic qualifications, to include practical skills, and that there was a role and a need within the UK economy for unskilled migrant labour.
Home-grown labour force
The Committee asked about the prospect of encouraging more UK workers to enter the meat processing industry and took particular note of Ms Steiger’s comment that this type of work simply does not appeal to British youth.
Asked what the industry is doing to promote recruitment, Ms Steiger presented the Committee with a substantial list of incentives and activities that have been tried. This included an example of BMPA members offering apprenticeship wages at 50% more than the minimum wage for that age group. The Committee made note of the fact that, even with such attractive offers, recruitment of UK workers remains a problem.
BMPA, along with other industry groups, continues to engage with Government on this subject as the Brexit negotiations progress.