Jury still out on Government quarantine announcement - and more action needed on labour!
23rd Jul 2021 / By Alistair Driver
The Government has announced that food workers will be exempt from isolation rules, although the NPA has said it is still unclear how this will operate in practice.
The announcement comes in response to warnings from across the food industry, including the NPA, which issued a press release yesterday, that the huge number of absences due to NHS Test and Trace self-isolation requests could soon lead to food shortages.
Under the new system, in selected businesses, fully vaccinated workers identified as close contacts of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 will be exempt from self-isolation as long as they carry out daily COVID tests and test negative.
Defra Secretary George Eustice said the government had identified about 500 ‘key strategically important’ sites in the food supply chain, including the supermarket distribution depots and some large manufacturers' facilities.
It is expected that up to 10,000 workers could qualify for the exemption, although individuals who qualify will need to be named by their company.
The Government guidance states: “In the small number of situations where the self-isolation of close contacts would result in serious disruption to critical services, a limited number of named workers may be able to leave self-isolation under specific controls for the purpose of undertaking critical work only.”
This process is only intended to run until August 16 2021, when fully vaccinated close contacts will be exempt from self-isolation.
The guidance adds: “This policy only applies to you if your employer has received a letter from a government department on which your name is listed. In this event you will be able to leave self-isolation to undertake critical work. In all other cases, you should continue to self-isolate as now.”
“This policy applies to named workers in specifically approved workplaces who are fully vaccinated (defined as someone who is 14 days post-final dose) and who have been identified as close contacts.”
You can read the full guidance HERE
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies welcomed the move, which the NPA and others in the food supply have been calling for. But she said it was unclear how it work and who it would apply to.
“While we are pleased to see the announcement, we are concerned that the process seems so mired in paperwork, with every individual needing to be approved for exemption rather than just having ‘key worker’ status, we wonder if the Government will get through the applications within the 10 day isolation period!
“Hopefully, all the pork processing plants have been listed as they will need to have been notified by Defra before they can start to apply.
“The jury remains out on the extent to which this will alleviate the debilitating labour shortages across the food.
“We must not lose sight that the issue runs much deeper than the ‘pingdemic’. We are also asking for a number of other actions, including:
- Providing businesses access to EU seasonal workers from the EU as allowed in the horticulture, fruit and poultry sectors.
- A temporary relaxation of visa rules for specific roles to allow more foreign labour into the UK.
- The Home Office to add meat processing workers and butchers to the Shortage Occupation List.
- A sensible analysis by the Treasury to determine which of the approximately 1.5 million furloughed workers may be suitable for employment in the food sector, and then helping them get back work as soon as possible.
- A compensation package from Defra for those in the industry most heavily impacted by this on-going crisis, similar to what has already been delivered by other devolved administrations.