Turkey producers seek urgent exemption for 1,000 EU workers

The sector warns of a UK Christmas turkey shortage without EU labour
The sector warns of a UK Christmas turkey shortage without EU labour

Turkey producers are seeking an urgent exemption for non-UK seasonal poultry workers to ensure the Christmas supply does not collapse.

The proposed exemption would cover at least 1,000 seasonal workers coming from Poland, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria at the end of this month.

The British Poultry Council (BPC), the group behind the proposal, said the seasonal turkey sector could not survive without non-UK labour.

But with Covid-related quarantine measures currently in place in the UK, a shortage of highly-skilled agricultural workers is feared.

Figures show around 9 million British-produced turkeys are reared for Christmas each year.

“The seasonal turkey sector is vital to delivering the British Christmas and it cannot survive without access to non-UK labour," BPC chief executive Richard Griffiths said.

"If these vacancies cannot be filled, it will have a significant impact on the production of, and therefore cost of food – all of which will pose a risk to affordability and potentially force people to go without food this Christmas."

There is a shortage of UK-based workers with the necessary training and qualifications to slaughter and process Christmas turkeys.

Turkey producers are heavily reliant on licenced and trained EU workers with specific farming, processing, and butchery skills.

The BPC said these skills could not be replaced without a lengthy training and recruitment period.

The type of skills required were 'not available' amongst UK workers, it said, particularly amongst the pool of those who were currently unemployed.

"Also, it will be unfeasible to train and upskill UK workers within the short window available," Mr Griffiths said.

"If the sector cannot bring in trained workers from outside the UK, then the level and quality of production will be significantly compromised."

Mr Griffiths urged the government to ensure British poultry meat stayed 'affordable' and 'available for all'.

"Losing control of how we feed ourselves as a nation would penalise British food producers at a time when we should be taking matters of food security into our own hands.”