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NPA makes case for pig industry roles to be included on Shortage Occupation List

5th Jun 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has highlighted the importance of EU labour to the pig sector, as the Government sets about finalizing the shortage occupation list.

abattoir workersNPA chief executive Zoe Davies and senior policy adviser Ed Barker discussed the list with Defra on Thursday.

The NPA, which has been campaigning for farm workers and meat plant staff to be included on the list throughout the lengthy process, highlighted farmers’ labour resource needs and the extent to which pork abattoirs and processing plants rely on EU labour.

The Government’s Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) is currently consulting on which occupations should be added to the list and therefore receive preferential treatment under the new immigration policy from next year. 

The food sector was excluded from the original list, prompting an angry response from the NPA and other food sector organisations. But the MAC has called for evidence of skills shortages to help it decide which occupations should be added to the list.

Zoe said: “We made it clear that there is still a need for both permanent and temporary staff on pig farms, and that in many cases EU workers fill those roles because they are willing to do the work and often come from farming backgrounds, so they arrive with the necessary skills and an understanding of what the role entails.

“Some farmers are very reliant on EU labour. We also flagged that many come over as base level stockman and work their way up to management level, so we need to make sure we can still access those people.”

Zoe said Defra appeared to be ‘quite positive’ about the prospects of butchers being added to the list as there was good evidence to support the case. “It is harder to convince the MAC that there is a shortage of farm workers – but we will continue to push the case, nonetheless!” she added.

Meat industry backing

The NPA has given its backing to calls from the British meat industry for the Government to add butchers to the SOL.

“We made it quite clear, that while there is some potential to recruit more labour domestically, restricting EU workers will lead to labour shortages in plants, hampering the meat industry’s capacity to produce food and making us more reliant on imports,” Zoe said.

The ‘Butcher’ category includes slaughtermen as well as the boning, cutting and trimming specialists that prepare carcases for storage, processing and sale.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), which will be submitting evidence to show why butchers should be added, said it takes up to two years of training before a new recruit to the meat processing industry has the skill to work safely and productively on different parts of the production line.

“The job is physically demanding, requiring strength and discipline as well as specialist knowledge of various areas ranging from knife skills, animal anatomy and use of processing equipment through to an understanding of food quality, safety standards and traceability. It’s also work that is difficult and often impossible to automate, which means we always need people,” the association said in an article on its website.

Even before the coronavirus crisis, UK meat processing companies were contending with a 10-15% shortfall in skilled workers.

“While some of the demand for staff can be filled by British trainees, it doesn’t completely solve the problem,” the BMPA added. “Beyond the pool of UK workers, the shortfall can then only be made up by bringing in skilled workers from abroad.”

Ed added that, while Defra is sympathetic, the onus will be on individual businesses to provide proof of need to the MAC. “We are fully supportive of the BMPA’s calls,” he said adding that butchers are eligible to be moved onto the SOL as they meet RQF3 level.

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