Turkey supplier Bernard Matthews has greeted the UK government’s temporary visa scheme with a plan to hire 900 factory workers ahead of Christmas.

Owner Ranjit Singh Boparan, the businessman behind 2 Sisters Food Group, the country’s largest poultry processor, said the EU workers are due to arrive in the “coming days”. The new staff will help Bernard Matthews service demand for turkeys at plants in East Anglia in the east of England.

“With just a few weeks to go until Christmas, it is very good news to be able to report that here we are in mid-November, and we’re well on the way to plugging the job gaps for the massive volume increases we get during this time of year,” Boparan said.

“Our teams have been working incredibly hard to process almost 900 applications for the seasonal worker scheme and we’ll be seeing the first arrivals at our factories in the coming days. This means we should be able to fulfil all our projected orders for turkeys and there will be enough turkeys to go around.”

Amid serious labour shortages as a result of Brexit and Covid-19, the UK government announced in September it would ease visa rules for up to 5,500 poultry workers and 5,000 heavy-goods-vehicle drivers from October up to Christmas Eve. Boparan has taken advantage of the scheme by hiring workers for his turkey factories from Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Romania and Bulgaria for the busy Christmas season, when demand for staff typically rises by as much as 400%, he said.

The so-called ‘chicken king’ has been vocal in recent months over the labour shortages 2 Sisters and its meat-processing industry peers are facing post-Brexit. He has also been spoken publicly about how consumers might have to get used to higher prices in the face of rising input costs amid warnings from turkey suppliers over a possible shortage of birds for the festive season.

“We can sometimes be quick to criticise and challenge the Government, as I have done myself on several occasions, but we also need to say thank you when we think they’ve got it right and they deliver. The bottom line is that this has helped us save Christmas, not only for us, but all producers in this sector, and of course for the consumer,” Boparan said today (17 November).

He called on the Government to repeat the visa scheme next year, but with an earlier start date, as “it would be silly to plug any gaps by using imports”.

Sky News reported this week that Boparan was reportedly seeking to raise GBP50m (US$67.1m) from hedge funds to help his group businesses navigate the labour shortages. A spokesperson told Just Food the company had “nothing to add”.