In Brief

Brexit and Covid threaten Christmas turkeys

Supply is predicted to drop by 20% this festive season owing to staff shortages

Brexit is being blamed for staff shortages that poultry producers warn may lead to a lack of turkeys this Christmas.

The Independent reported this week that the restaurant chain Nando’s had been forced to shut 10% of its outlets as a result of staffing issues at its suppliers’ factories and a shortage of HGV drivers.

And now there is a crisis in the turkey sector. The British Poultry Council said its members reported that one in six jobs were unfilled because EU workers left the UK after Brexit.

The Guardian reported that the supply of turkey is already down by around 10% but could decline by as much as 20% by Christmas because bosses may be unable to bring in the usual number of seasonal workers.

Paul Kelly, managing director of turkey producer KellyBronze, said it would be “financial suicide” if companies hatched turkeys without enough workers to deal with them in time for the nation’s Christmas dinners. “Turkey after Christmas Day is worth nothing,” he said.

The situation is “hugely serious”, said Mark Gorton, managing director of Traditional Norfolk Poultry. “The big problem we’ve got at the moment is labour,” he told ITV. “We simply cannot find people to run our farms and run our factory.”

Ranjit Singh Boparan, founder of 2 Sisters Food Group, said Brexit had “acutely reduced available workers across the food sector” with entry-level jobs hardest to fill. He also blamed the soaring cost of ingredients, wage inflation and Covid-related absences.

However, the Unite union said that neither Brexit nor Covid were to blame for staff shortages. Instead, said Bev Clarkson, Unite’s national officer for food, drink and agriculture, the problem is the “terrible pay and working conditions that make the meat-processing industry one of the worst places to work in the UK”.

The issue of staff shortages at Christmas certainly predates Brexit and Covid. In 2018, The Guardian said “people don’t want to work in abattoirs any more”, leaving some 10,000 positions unfilled at slaughterhouses.

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