THE UK food and drink sector has called for a temporary visa class to be established for urgently required workers, such as lorry drivers.
A new cross-industry report has urged the government to institute a so-called COVID-19 Recovery Visa that would last for 12 months, to help alleviate the workforce shortages that are causing serious disruption to the UK economy.
This summer, UK supply chains have been upended by several factors including labour shortages, new immigration rules, and the lingering effects of the pandemic.
Supermarkets and restaurants have been some of the hardest hit, with chains such as Nando’s being forced to temporarily shut 50 sites due to chicken shortages.
The report was spearheaded by the National Famers’ Union and signed by a dozen industry groups.
It was sent to government ministers on Friday to show how the pandemic and the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy are affecting the recruitment of key workers.
Currently, there are average vacancy rates of 13%, and an estimated 500,000 vacancies across food and drink businesses.
The report also calls on the government to commit to a permanent seasonal worker scheme for UK fruit and vegetable pickers and to launch an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food & farming sector, in the same way, it is doing for adult social care.
The boss of the Co-operative Group, which owns the Co-op retail chain, told a newspaper this week that the food shortages hitting the country were the worst he had ever seen.
Some supermarkets and suppliers are struggling to meet demand after many HGV drivers from EU countries left the UK during the coronavirus pandemic and have not returned.
“For the past 18 months food and farming businesses have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full of nutritious and affordable food, but as this report demonstrates, businesses throughout the supply chain in a wide variety of roles are really feeling the impacts of the workforce shortages,” said Tom Bradshaw, vice president of the NFU.
“Farm businesses have done all they can to recruit staff domestically, but even increasingly competitive wages have had little impact because the labour pool is so limited instead only adding to growing production costs,” he added.