Labour shortages threaten empty supermarket shelves

Without immediate action from the UK government to tackle labour shortages in the processing sector, shoppers could be facing empty supermarket shelves by the end of the year, it has been claimed.

Meat processing workers are in demand
Meat processing workers are in demand

Stating that the Westminster Government had a responsibility to ensurethere was sufficient food for the nation, the Scottish Association ofMeat Wholesalers (SAMW) yesterday warned that a lack of workers in themeat processing and distribution network meant there was a serious riskthat it would fail to deliver on this obligation.Speaking at an all-industry meeting on labour shortages with theScottish Government, SAMW told ministers that there was a serious riskof a significant shortage of product by late 2021. Stating that manyabattoirs and processors were seriously short of workers theorganisation added:"While the current labour shortage is already extremely worrying, ourassessment is that the situation will become far worse as we move intobusier meat demand periods. Member companies, operating with 10-15%fewer staff than they desire, are just about managing to meet currentdemands for meat,” warned the organisation.However it added that that the situation would be different in the runup to Christmas when demand rose sharply:“At that point, there is a real risk that supplies will run short andgaps will begin to appear on retail shelves.”Many of the sector's missing 10-15% of workers, SAMW claimed, hadreturned to their home countries as a result of Brexit and were showingno signs of being willing to return."Clearly, we need action from Government and we need it now,” said theorganisation, which called for immediate access to EU workers.“One option is to provide such workers with short term visas – say fortwo years. We also need the government to include butchers, etc. ontheir shortage occupation list (SOL).”Stating that the situation was being exacerbated by the shortage oflorry drivers, they said that calls to recruit UK workers saw themcompete with other understaffed sectors such as hospitality and on-linebusinesses.*The wider farming sector also faces a considerable labour shortage,with the fruit, potatoes and horticulture sectors facing the largestshortfalls, along with the dairy sector as it faces up to the challengesof an aging workforce and a reduced availability of foregin workers.That was the message given to journalists at a briefing organised by theScottish Machinery Ring Association yesterday.Gail Robertson, Ringlinks group operations manager said that trainingand skills development would play a key role in ensuring that thoseinterested in the sector would be fit to meet the opportunitiescurrently offered in the sector.However she also made the point that there was a need for the farmingsector to address its public image, with many school leavers, parentsand key influencers working under the misapprehension that agriculturewas a largely unskilled sector:“And when we engage with schools there is a real need to highlight themany high-tech opportunities which are now available for workers in thefarming sector.”

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