Industry leaders have welcomed the government’s decision to grant 10,500 temporary visas to lorry drivers and poultry workers, but some have warned it is too little, too late to solve the supply chain crisis.
Following intense lobbying from food and farming organisations, the government announced that up to 5,500 temporary visas have been made available for poultry workers to work in the UK for up to three months before Christmas Eve.
The government has also confirmed that 5,000 fuel tanker and food lorry drivers will be able to travel to the UK to work under the same temporary workers scheme.
Recruitment for the short-term workers will begin in October and the government said the visas will be valid until 24 December.
The NFU welcomed the decision and said it looked forward to applying the scheme for poultry, especially providing access for small producers.
“We will also continue to work with government to find solutions for the wider labour needs, including trained and able butchers for pork production to deal with the increasingly serious build-up of pigs on farm and the risk of welfare issues,” said NFU vice-president Tom Bradshaw.
Non-EU workers needed – IFA
The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) urged the Irish government to fast-track work permit applications from outside the European Union to help alleviate the backlog of pigs in the market.
British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said the UK government’s move to allow temporary workers for the poultrymeat sector will be welcomed by seasonal producers.
“Temporary workers from outside the UK have long been vital to delivering Christmas for our sector and given the unprecedented challenges of the past year they are needed more than ever,” said Mr Griffiths.
“British turkey and goose are the centrepiece of Christmas dinners across the country and we are pleased that government has listened.”
Ian Wright, chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said it was a “pragmatic decision” by the government to temporarily add HGV drivers and poultry workers to the existing visa scheme.
However, business industry groups, including the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC), said the response did not go far enough.
BCC president Baroness McGregor-Smith said the plans were the “equivalent of throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire” because it would “not be enough to address the scale of the problem”.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that, if he were prime minister, he would have issued 100,000 foreign driver visas to address the food and fuel supply crisis.
“It is a complete crisis,” Sir Keir told the programme.
Meanwhile, it is understood the government is considering deploying the Army to help deliver petrol to filling stations after more than half were forced to close due to panic buying at the pumps.