Brexit staffing problems risk Christmas turkey shortage, poultry farmers warn

One in six jobs in poultry industry unfilled due to EU workers leaving UK, employers say

Holly Bancroft
Friday 20 August 2021 08:36
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Brexit to blame for fast-food chicken shortages, says industry

Serious staff shortages caused by Brexit could mean there aren’t enough turkeys for Christmas, poultry producers have warned.

The British Poultry Council (BPC) said its members, which includes the country’s largest supplier of supermarket chicken, have told them that one in six jobs were unfilled because EU workers have left the UK after Brexit.

The problem has been thrown into the limelight this week after restaurant chain Nando’s had to temporarily close more than 40 outlets in Britain due to staff shortages.

Paul Kelly, the managing director of KellyBronze, which produces free range turkeys, told The Guardian that big producers would opt to rear fewer birds if they were not confident of securing the 1,500 to 2,000 needed to get the birds ready for sale at Christmas.

He said: “There will be a massive shortage because companies cannot risk hatching turkeys and pushing them on the farm if they can’t get the workers to do the job.

“It would be financial suicide. Turkey after Christmas Day is worth nothing.”

The British Poultry Council wrote to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, this month asking for the Government to relax immigration rules but have yet to receive a response. The poultry industry employs more than 40,000 people but there are nearly 7,000 vacancies, according to the Council.

The letter detailed how some chicken suppliers have cut their weekly output by up to 10 per cent. The supply of turkey is down by a similar amount but firms fear it will sink to as much as 20 per cent in December, due to the lack of seasonal workers.

The British Meat Processors Association has also called on the government to allow their production workers on the Home Office’s shortage occupation list, which allows more workers to come from overseas.

Nick Allen, chief executive at the British Meat Processors Association, told The Independent: “The supply problems are coming from the underlying labour problems happening since Brexit... It’s certainly Brexit-related, but it’s also the immigration decisions our politicians are making since Brexit.”

He added: “Nando’s is the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re going to see more and more [closures]. Some people are still trying to open up their restaurants - but they’re struggling to get staff and struggling for deliveries.”

One of Britain’s largest poultry producers dismissed claims the supply crisis was down to the recent Covid “pingdemic” that forced staff into isolation. An Avara Foods spokesperson said: “Our concern is recruitment and filling vacancies when the UK workforce has been severely depleted as a result of Brexit.”

Last week KFC said supply chain issues were disrupting its food and packaging stocks nationwide.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, the billionaire founder of 2 Sisters, the Birmingham-based food manufacturing company, warned Government a few weeks ago that his industry was at “crisis point”.

He said the pingdemic was “masking” other issues, including Brexit-related shortages and Covid troubles. He added that the Government needed to act or face the “most serious food shortages that this country has seen in over 75 years”.

“Supply of chicken and turkey is under threat. Our retail partners and the wider supply chain have worked together closer than ever before to ensure we retain food supply and this is of huge credit to everyone. But we are at crisis point,” he said.

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