UK faces food shortages as worker shortage worsens
(Bloomberg) – From slaughterhouses to restaurant kitchens, Britain’s food industry faces a daunting challenge this summer: There are simply not enough workers.
The food industry, already facing labor shortages due to Brexit and the pandemic, is now under strain at full capacity as the country reopens. Meat processors cut production and a “catastrophic” shortage of drivers is disrupting food deliveries to supermarkets. Warehouses and farms are also under manpower, threatening to stifle food supply flows, while local pubs and Michelin-starred restaurants must curtail service and raise salaries for chefs and waiters.
âWe are constantly fighting every day to try to put out fires in supply chains,â said Shane Brennan, who heads the Cold Chain Federation. âWe are already seeing empty shelves in parts of the food supply chain, in supermarkets and in the hotel industry. It will continue. And we’re going to see intermittent shortages throughout the summer.
The shortages started with Brexit, which limited the inflows of low-paid workers from the European Union. The problem has intensified during the pandemic with thousands of people from the 27-country bloc leaving the UK Now that the economy is reopening, many of these workers do not seem in a rush to return.
This adds to the pressure on food costs, already boosted by rising commodity prices and logistical disruptions resulting from Brexit and the blockade of the Suez Canal in March. A tight labor market will fuel inflation, the Food and Drink Federation said.
âThe whole food industry is really struggling right now,â said Nick Allen, managing director of the British Meat Processors Association. “We are reaching a point of desperation, we just seem to be heading towards a brick wall.”
Fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables has been hit particularly hard because of wastage if they are not shipped on time, Brennan said. While harvests in the UK are underway, retailers are struggling to source local produce and instead seek European supplies, he said.
For years, growers have worried about access to seasonal workers after Brexit discouraged the influx of poorly paid European fruit pickers. Horticulturalists across the country are short of 40,000 seasonal workers, even after the UK government granted 30,000 non-UK visas to boost the workforce, according to the National Farmers’ Union.
Some companies blame Britain’s new points-based immigration system introduced as part of the Brexit changes. It prioritizes the most skilled workers, making it more difficult for certain sectors, such as hospitality and agriculture, to get the staff they need. For EU citizens living in the UK before the end of 2020, there is a separate ‘EU Settlement Program’. The deadline for submitting applications is June 30.
Shortages in agriculture and processing also affect meat production. The BMPA said the industry was considering shutting down UK production lines and buying overseas. Companies are already cutting back on production due to a lack of processing staff and delivery drivers, he said.
There has been a 10% drop in poultry throughput in recent weeks, according to the British Poultry Council. He is called on ministers to add industry – already 60% EU nationals – to the list of skilled workers, which would allow him to recruit more people from outside the UK.
âThe government must recognize food as a special case that is treated as a national security issue,â CEO Richard Griffiths said. “Losing control over how we feed ourselves as a nation would undermine UK food producers at a time when we should be looking to use Brexit as an opportunity to take food security and nutrition issues into our own hands.”
Supermarkets are also feeling the impact of the driver shortage. On June 18, Tesco Plc CEO Ken Murphy said the nation’s largest retailer had not seen empty shelves. His comments came after trade publication The Grocer reported that Tesco told government ministers that nearly 50 tons of food per week was going to be wasted at its suppliers due to a shortage of drivers.
It can also impact those who need food the most. Charity FareShare, which depends on retailers and other suppliers for deliveries of surplus food, estimates that up to 30% of the food it would normally receive is at risk. Daily deliveries fell to around 100 tonnes, from an average of 150 tonnes to 160 tonnes, the statement said.
Chefs and waiters
Restaurants, pubs, hotels and other establishments lost 330,000 employees during the pandemic. After reopening, they have a 10% vacancy rate and are short of 188,000 people, according to UKHospitality. Chefs, waiters, supervisors, doormen and security guards are all in demand and employers must raise wages and prices after a long period of leave, according to CEO Kate Nicholls.
READ: UK restaurants face shortage of chefs as indoor dining picks up
Some establishments have been forced to cut service, which means that there is no lunch at the Michelin-starred restaurants Le Gavroche and Pied Ã Terre.
âSince opening, restaurants across the country have suffered greatly from staffing issues,â famous Gavroche chef Michel Roux Jr. told guests on his restaurant’s website. “The alternative at this point would essentially be to overload our existing staff, which we are not prepared to do.”
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