Bodies representing the UK food industry have joined forces with farming groups to urge Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take action to deal with an acute labour shortage, which they said could lead to empty shelves and panic buying this Christmas.
They want the industry to be able to recruit from outside the UK to “get us through the winter”.
In a letter sent to the PM yesterday (22 September), seen by Just Food, they asked him to implement “as a matter of urgency a Covid Recovery Visa to alleviate crippling labour shortages across the supply chain”.
It said the food and farming sector “remains on a knife edge” due to the “unprecedented shortages of workers” across the entire supply chain and talked of 500,000 unfilled vacancies.
Brexit and Covid have been major factors contributing to the labour shortage with workers returning to the European Union during the pandemic and EU nationals not having automatic employment rights in the UK now that it has left the bloc.
The letter was written by National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters and countersigned by organisations including the Food and Drink Federation, the British Meat Processors Association, the British Poultry Council and Dairy UK.
The letter results from an “emergency roundtable” convened by the NFU on 21 September, with representatives from the UK food supply chain, to discuss the “growing crisis”.
They say the 12-month Covid Recovery Visa would enable all involved throughout the supply chain to recruit critical roles as a short-term response to labour shortages.
The letter also asks for a commitment to a permanent, revised and expanded seasonal worker scheme for UK horticulture and an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) on the impact of ending free movement on the food and farming sector.
It said: “The situation is not improving, in fact, images of empty supermarket shelves are becoming commonplace as labour shortages bite. As we move towards Christmas, there is a substantial threat of food inflation directly impacting the poorest families.
“That is why the entire UK food supply chain from farm supply to retail outlets are united in calling for an emergency Covid Recovery Visa to open up new recruitment opportunities as a matter of urgency.
“Without it more shelves will go empty and consumers will panic buy to try and get through the winter.”
The letter said it is a “travesty that this is happening in parallel with UK food producers disposing of perfectly edible food as it either cannot be picked, packed, processed or transported to the end customer”.
It warned the supply chain will be “critically damaged beyond recovery” if it cannot overcome the immediate crisis.
Just Food has asked the Prime Minister’s Office for a response to the letter.