UK meat industry turning to prisons in desperate attempt to bridge labor gaps

UK – The UK meat industry is now turning to prisons in the hope of finding enough work force to bridge the current labor gaps that have deepened in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic.

The meat industry in the UK has in the recent past been grappling with a dwindling work force as most experienced workers have found themselves being forced to self-isolate once coming into contact with a person that is later tests positive for Covid-19.

The situation has been further compounded by Brexit which restricted EU migrant workers from working in Britain.

Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of our workers who were from the EU have now returned home to their home countries,” details Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA).

 “We’ve had people leaving the industry and not being replaced so you know an underlying and longer-term staff shortage and skills shortage.”

Suppliers are now looking to hire prisoners as an approach to bolster industry’s dwindling workforce and have already made contact with the Ministry of Justice to explore options for how current inmates and ex-offenders can be recruited.

Tony Goodger, Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) spokesperson revealed in an interview with Food Ingredients first that few of the association’s members already have inmates  working for them.

It is of note that many prisons already teach inmates food safety, which is the entry point level required for working in the food industry.

However, different cuts require specific skill sets from different types of butchers which the prisoners will have to learn over time.

A knock-on effect of lack of the required skill set is a reduction of the variety of meat cuts for British consumers.

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Last week, Nando’s ran short of its classic menu staple peri-peri chicken wings, which prompted the restaurant chain to shutter 45 of its 450 UK locations in the UK.

The chain underscored staffing shortages among its suppliers who are “struggling to keep up with demand” as well as the lack of heavy goods vehicle drivers that resulted in gaps across supermarket shelves over the course of this month.

Last month, in an effort to plug the labor drain caused by the “pingdemic,” the UK government introduced a new daily testing scheme that allows many food workers to continue working, regardless of vaccination status.

This is however not enough and Allen believes that government needs to reconsider their position on the Skilled Worker Shortage Occupation List, particularly skilled jobs which take a long time to train.

“You can’t replace these people overnight,” Allen said, referring to the skilled EU migrant workers who have now since returned to their home country, leaving UK to grapple with acute labor shortages.

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