Labour crisis: 5,500 poultry workers to get temporary visas

Poultry workers will be issued temporary UK visas as the government scrambles to soften the labour crisis
Poultry workers will be issued temporary UK visas as the government scrambles to soften the labour crisis

Farming groups have welcomed the government's decision to add 5,500 poultry workers to existing visa schemes, but warn that more solutions will be needed for wider labour needs.

As well as poultry workers, the government confirmed over the weekend that 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be eligible to work in the UK for three months.

The growing labour crisis has resulted in empty shelves in supermarkets and, in some cases, food left on farms unable to be picked up or processed.

It follows the food and farming industry's letter to Boris Johnson earlier this week, asking him to urgently implement a Covid Recovery Visa to alleviate labour shortages.

NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw said the union welcomed the government's new announcement, but said more solution would be needed for 'wider labour needs'.

He said: “The NFU has worked with the wider industry to help evidence the needs of the sector and we look forward to working with government on applying the scheme for poultry and, in particular, access for smaller producers.

“We will also continue to work with government to find solutions for the wider labour needs, including trained and able butchers for pork production to deal with the increasingly serious build-up of pigs on farm and the risk of welfare issues.”

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) added that it welcomed the government's 'pragmatic' measures, but it warned that the step was just 'a start'.

Chief executive Ian Wright CBE said "This is something UK food and drink manufacturers have asked for over the last few months – including in industry’s Grant Thornton report – to alleviate some of the pressure labour shortages have placed on the food supply chain.

"This is a start but we need the government to continue to collaborate with industry and seek additional long term solutions."

The organisations behind this week's letter called for measures including a 12-month Covid Recovery Visa which they say would enable the supply chain to recruit critical roles as a short-term response to labour shortages.

Government commitment is also needed to a 'revised and expanded' Seasonal Worker Scheme for UK horticulture, to ensure it is flexible and large enough to meet workforce needs.

Finally, the groups urge the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to review the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector, in the same way it is doing for adult social care.