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Meat trade spells out threat of shortages unless labour crisis is addressed

WORRIED: Meat wholesalers are facing a labour shortage.
WORRIED: Meat wholesalers are facing a labour shortage.

Scotland’s meat wholesalers have issued their strongest warning yet of a “serious danger of collapse” in the processing and distribution network unless the labour shortage crisis is urgently addressed.

Members of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) say they currently have a labour shortfall of 10-15% in processing plants, and they are also struggling to secure any one-off requirements to collect raw materials from farms or deliver end product to retailers.

At a meeting with Scottish Government ministers, SAMW leaders said they predicted a worsening situation when demand for meat picks up later in the year.

In a statement following the meeting, SAMW said: “This is a relatively quiet time of the year, certainly as compared with the autumn and pre-Christmas period when demand can be expected to rise sharply. At that point, there is a real risk supplies will run short and gaps will begin to appear on retail shelves.

“The UK Government is responsible for ensuring there is sufficient food for the nation and the current situation with labour shortages in the meat processing and distribution network is putting that responsibility in serious danger of collapse later this year.”

Pressure

Wholesalers say even if the government acts now to address the situation, it is likely meat supplies will still be under pressure towards the end of the year as many of the missing labour-force returned to their home countries during the final weeks of the Brexit process and are not showing any signs of being willing to return.

SAMW said: “Our priority request is to that we need access to EU workers to operate our businesses this year. One option is to provide such workers with short-term visas – say for two years.

“We also need the government to include butchers, etc. on their shortage occupation list.

“We have been told many times, of course, to go out and recruit staff from the existing UK workforce.

“While we continue to do this as part of our own efforts to resolve the current crisis, members’ experience to date is that the skill sets required by meat processing companies are not currently available in the UK, certainly not widely available.

“Finally, training new staff to work in meat processing is at least an 18 to 24-month operation, a timeline which does not equate with the food needs of the country’s consumers.”

The Home Office was contacted for comment.

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