Overseas abattoir workers to get temporary visas

·3 min read

The government is to allow 800 foreign abattoir workers into the UK on temporary visas, after warnings from farmers of mass culls.

It previously said businesses should pay higher wages and invest in skills.

The shortage of butchers has already seen farmers destroy 6,600 healthy pigs due to a backlog on farms, the National Pig Association (NPA) said.

The government also announced plans to allow thousands more HGV deliveries to address a chronic driver shortage.

The meat industry blames the butcher shortage on factors including Covid and Brexit.

Thousands of healthy pigs have been culled since last week, when the tally was about 600.

Last week, the National Farmer's Union (NFU) warned that pig farmers were "facing a human disaster" due to the shortage of butchers.

It said that "empty retail shelves and product shortages are becoming increasingly commonplace and Christmas specialities such as pigs in blankets are already under threat".

Butcher scheme

The government is temporarily extending its seasonal workers scheme to pork butchers, it said.

Environment Secretary George Eustice at the Conservatives conference
Environment Secretary George Eustice said the new measures were only temporary, not a long term solution

Up to 800 pork butchers will be eligible to apply until the end of the year for six-month visas.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: "A unique range of pressures on the pig sector over recent months, such as the impacts of the pandemic and its effect on export markets, have led to the temporary package of measures we are announcing.

"This is the result of close working with industry to understand how we can support them through this challenging time."

The government added that the temporary visas "are not a long term solution and businesses must make long term investments in the UK domestic workforce to build a high-wage, high-skill economy, instead of relying on overseas labour".

Alongside the temporary visas, the government announced a package of measures for the industry, including:

  • Animals being slaughtered and processed on a Saturday

  • Longer working days in the meat industry, where possible

  • A "private storage aid scheme" which will allow processors to store slaughtered pigs for three to six months

  • Suspending nearly £1m of tax on pig farmers and producers in November

It said there had been "a suspension of approval to export to China for some UK pork establishments" and that it was working with the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board to identify other export markets.

The extension of visa requirements for butchers follows the announcement of temporary visas for lorry drivers and poultry workers, as the government seeks to limit disruption in the run-up to Christmas.

But the first foreign HGV drivers brought in on the new visa scheme may not arrive for another month, sources told BBC transport correspondent Carrie Davies.

The visa scheme for HGV drivers to deliver food, opened for applications on Monday.

The Home Office has not confirmed the number of visas that have been applied for so far, but several agencies that are recruiting the drivers told the BBC that they were yet to apply for them.

Lorry driver shortage

A lorry driver being trained in the UK
More heavy good vehicle drivers are being trained after the government simplified the qualification process in September

A chronic shortage of lorry drivers, which the haulage industry has said is due to factors that include Covid and Brexit, has affected businesses including petrol stations and supermarkets.

The government announced on Thursday that it planned to temporarily allow lorries from the EU to make more deliveries, as part of efforts to address the shortage.

At the moment, EU lorries can only make two "cabotage" trips per week.

Cabotage refers to loading or unloading goods in one country when a vehicle is registered in another country.

The government wants to relax this rule to temporarily allow EU lorries to make unlimited pick-ups and drop-offs within a two week period.

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