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Comment on labour shortage meeting with Scottish Government

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) took part in an all-industry meeting with Scottish Government ministers on July 8 to discuss serious concerns over labour shortages.

“The UK Government is responsible for ensuring there is sufficient food for the nation and the current situation surrounding labour shortages in the meat processing and distribution network is putting that responsible in serious danger of collapse later this year,” said SAMW. “Member companies, who process almost all of Scotland’s red meat output, currently have a labour shortfall of 10-15% in relation to staff needs for meat processing plants. In addition, labour shortages in the haulage sector is making it increasingly difficult to secure any one-off requirements to collect raw materials from farms or any equivalent one-off requirements to deliver end product to retailers.

“While the current labour shortage is already extremely worrying, our assessment is that the situation will become far worse as we move into busier meat demand periods. Member companies, operating with 10-15% fewer staff than they desire, are just about managing to meet current demands for meat. However, this is a relatively quiet time of the year, certainly as compared with the autumn and pr-Christmas period when demand can be expected to rise sharply. At that point, there is a real risk that supplies will run short and gaps will begin to appear on retail shelves.

“Even if Government acts now to address this crisis situation, it is likely that meat supplies will still be under pressure towards the end of the year. Many of our sector’s missing 10-15% of workers returned their home countries during the final weeks of the Brexit process and are not showing any signs of being willing to return.

“If the Government does nothing, however, deciding to wait and see, we believe there will be a serious shortage of product by late 2021. We repeat, it is the Government’s responsibly to ensure the country has sufficient food and this responsibility to is danger of not being met this year.

“Clearly, we need action from Government and we need it now, a point we made forcefully to ministers this morning. Our priority request is to that we need access to EU workers to operate our businesses this year. One option is to provide such workers with short term visas – say for two years. We also need the government to include butchers, etc. on their shortage occupation list (SOL).

“We have been told many times, of course, to go out and recruit staff from the existing UK workforce. While we continue to do this as part of our own efforts to resolve the current crisis, members’ experience to date is that the skill sets required by meat processing companies are not currently available in the UK, certainly not widely available. We are also competing for staff with many other sectors of the UK economy who are currently under-staffed, such as the hospitality sector and online businesses. Finally, training new staff to work in meat processing is at least an 18-24 month operation, a timeline which does not equate with the food needs of the country’s consumers.”