Brexit to blame for fast-food chicken shortages as ministers fail to help, industry says

‘When you don’t have people, you have a problem – the labour crisis is a Brexit issue’ says British Poultry Council

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Thursday 19 August 2021 13:15
Brexit to blame for fast-food chicken shortages, says industry

Brexit is to blame for the shortages of fast-food chicken that have shut some Nando’s stores, the industry says – accusing ministers of refusing to help.

EU workers returning home and a lack of lorry drivers able to come to the UK lie behind the problems that have also hit KFC and other outlets, the British Poultry Council said.

“When you don’t have people, you have a problem – and this is something we are seeing across the whole supply chain. The labour crisis is a Brexit issue,” said chief executive Richard Griffiths.

He lashed out at Priti Patel for failing to respond to a plea for poultry meat supply chain workers to be included on the shortage occupation list, to allow in more EU staff.

A letter was sent to the home secretary earlier this month, but Mr Griffiths revealed: “We have had no reply as yet.”

Boris Johnson has already rejected an identical plea to boost the number of HGV drivers, with ministers deciding to relax driving test rules instead.

Nando’s has not publicly acknowledged the impact of Brexit, but – strikingly – admitted its chicken shortages are “not affecting outlets in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland”.

And one of Britain’s largest poultry producers, Avaro Foods, dismissed claims that the crisis was caused by the ‘pingdemic’ that forced workers to isolate as close contacts of Covid cases.

“Our concern is recruitment and filling vacancies when the UK workforce has been severely depleted as a result of Brexit,” a spokesperson said, adding: “This is causing stress on UK supply chains.”

The poultry industry – responsible for producing half of all the meat eaten in the UK – is reporting vacancies of more than 16 per cent, Mr Griffiths said.

He told BBC’s Radio 4: “The situation we are seeing is a result of the Brexit issues that have arisen. We are seeing the struggles across the supply chain, with the shortage of labour.

The crisis was the “direct result of the limiting of immigration policies”, the chief executive said, adding: “We are asking the government to ease those.”

He rejected the suggestion that paying higher wages to UK workers could solve the problems, arguing “the willingness and availability are just not there”.

Mr Griffiths also dismissed fears of supermarket shortages, but warned: “We need the government to openly acknowledge that the problem exists.”

The industry leader spoke out after KFC revealed its problems, warning that some items would not be available and packaging “may look a bit different to normal”.

A government spokesperson said: “We have well-established ways of working with the food sector and are working closely with them to ensure businesses have the labour they need.

"We are looking at ways to help the sector recruit more domestic labour and invest in automation in order to reduce the reliance on migrant workers coming into the UK.”

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