The government has stepped in to counter a growing crisis in pig farms by allowing butchers to enter the UK on temporary visas, in the latest reversal of post-Brexit immigration policy.
Butchers at slaughterhouses and meat processing plants dealing with pigs will be allowed to come and work in Britain for six months, Environment Secretary George Eustice said Thursday evening. He said 800 butchers were needed to deal with staff shortages and bring the situation under control.
“This will help us deal with the backlog of pigs that we currently have on the farm, give these meat processors the opportunity to slaughter more pigs, and most importantly, we will make available what is called a private storage aid to help these slaughterhouses to temporarily store this meat, ”said Eustice.
The intervention comes weeks after farmers began slaughtering healthy livestock due to understaffing in the slaughterhouses where the animals are processed. In the last week alone, thousands of pigs were reportedly destroyed.
A backlog of up to 120,000 pigs is estimated to have stalled long after they should have gone to slaughter, with pens becoming overcrowded and farmers forced to call in specialist crews to remove surplus animals.
The storage aid scheme allows producers to store slaughtered pigs between three and six months, so that they can be kept safely and processed at a later date when the supply chain is less strained.
The government said the package designed to help pork producers would include the introduction of animal processing on Saturdays, as well as longer working days at processing plants.
In addition, ministers confirmed that they will suspend a tax on pork products for producers in England and Scotland for a month, resulting in estimated savings of £ 1million for the sector.
However, they rejected calls for the government to remove the requirement for internationally trained butchers to be fluent in English.
The meat industry is one of many sectors of the UK economy struggling with labor shortages exacerbated by Covid-19 and Brexit, while the lack of truck drivers has also disrupted supply chains.
Ministers had previously told farmers and processors they need to employ more British workers instead of relying on foreign labor.
The move is just the government’s latest turnaround to allow seasonal overseas workers in the UK to staff the food production and processing sector.
In the face of growing food and fuel shortages, the government announced last month that it would grant 5,000 temporary visas to non-UK truck drivers – although the minister admitted on Wednesday that only 20 visas had been issued so far . An additional 5,500 visas for seasonal poultry workers were also promised, which would last until December 31.
Duncan Berkshire, a Yorkshire pig veterinarian who participated in discussions between the sector and ministers, cautiously welcomed the butchers announcement.
“We are happy that the government has listened to us and has finally responded. It’s good to see some engagement, it’s great, ”he said.
He added: “We were hoping for longer. I’m concerned about how many people will want to come just for six months and if there is a limit on numbers it will only make one part of the system work and we will always end up with a significant number of pigs left behind. closed. “
Berkshire said he was aware thousands of pigs had been slaughtered on farms over the past week due to the backlog.
According to the British Meat Processors Association, non-UK workers make up two-thirds of the workforce, missing 15% of the 95,000 people the meat processing industry typically employs. Reports suggest that around 1,000 temporary visas could be issued.
The UK food and drink industry has applied for a special one-year ‘Covid-19 recovery visa’ to recruit workers from overseas, help alleviate disruptions in the food supply chain and enable hiring butchers, chefs and other food industry workers.
Butchers and meat processors were not previously included in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Program, which issues 30,000 annual permits to non-UK nationals to work as horticultural laborers, picking fruit and crops.