British Meat Processors Association
British Meat Processors Association

Meat industry workforce

Finding skilled people with good knife and butchery skills to work in abattoirs and meat processing plants is not an easy task.

Meat processing companies are found across the whole of the UK but are usually located close to pastureland and livestock farmers. They are often in areas where population is less dense and unemployment is running at less than 2%. This means that the local labour supply is often not sufficient to meet the needs of producers.

Meat processing in the UK employs around 75,000 people of which approximately 69% are EU nationals.

As the demand for more skilled people has risen, it has not been possible to source additional people from the UK. Migrant workers have not replaced UK workers but, instead, have added to them and been instrumental in allowing the industry to become more efficient, flexible and export focused.

Meat processing in the UK employs around 75,000 people of which approximately 69% are EU27 nationals. Some producers report workforces of up to 80% EU nationals. This has been the case for the last 15 years or more and EU workers are now an integral part of our food supply industry. It also reflects a general increase across the board in demand from UK customers for more boneless fresh meat cuts.

Why does the meat industry struggle to attract UK workers?

We often hear reports from our members of difficulty in recruiting UK workers despite comprehensive attempts to attract local labour via social media, advertising and recruitment drives in schools and job centres. In fact, the total number of applications from UK workers would fill only 10% of vacancies.

The common barrier to British people taking up roles in meat processing is an unwillingness to work in what is perceived to be a challenging environment. Most people, while they eat meat, find it difficult to work in its production partly because of the obvious aversion to the slaughter process but also because it is a physically demanding role.

Another factor affecting the industry’s ability to attract workers is the ready availability of other jobs in places like Amazon warehouses that can offer a similar wage but with less challenging working conditions.

It is a dilemma that is currently being mitigated by the ability of the industry to employ migrant workers. However, after Brexit, the ability to fill roles may be seriously compromised resulting in lower production, reduced competitiveness and higher prices for the UK consumer.

BMPA is working with Government to offer recommendations on how this potential shock to the labour force can be addressed. You can find details of our proposals in the Our Work and News Sections of this website.

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