The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee heard this afternoon that the seasonal agricultural worker scheme was not confirmed early enough, so not enough turkeys were placed for the festive period
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Many Brits will be forced to go without a Christmas turkey this year because of Brexit labour shortages, MPs were told this afternoon.
Graeme Dear, Chair of the British Poultry Council said they didn’t grow many turkeys this year because a large portion of their workforce has gone back to the EU.
Tory MP and member of the Environmental Select Committee, Sheryll Murray, questioned why the industry did not make use of the seasonal worker visa scheme.
“Did the workers not make an application to stay in the UK?” she questioned industry experts.
Mr Dear responded: “If we had been told in June that we would have 5,500 seasonal workers available to cover the demand for Christmas we would’ve placed enough turkeys.
“But we just weren’t sure.
“Around 90% of our shortages are in the processing plants, and the irony is that we may find ourselves having to import turkey from France and Poland for a British Christmas, probably with some of the very workers we trained and left to go back to their homelands.”
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The seasonal agricultural worker visa scheme enables butchers in abattoirs and meat processing plants dealing with pigs to come to work in Britain for six months.
Earlier this year, Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “That will help us to deal with the backlog of pigs that we currently have on farm, give those meat processors the ability to slaughter more pigs, and crucially as well we are going to make available what is called private storage aid to help those abattoirs to temporarily store that meat.”
But today, poultry expert Mr Dear said: “We’ll do our absolute utmost to make sure that Christmas is as normal as it can be.
“But there’s a likelihood that there will be a shortage [over the festive period].
“Had we known back in June or July it would have been fixed.”
Tom Bradshaw, Vice President of the National Farmers Union added the poultry sector had only found out about the extra workers they had access to, three weeks ago.
The flower and plants industry has also faced labour market shortages, with a drop in 34% of available workers.
The flower industry is worth more than £100million to the Cornish economy.
Derek Jarman Chair of the British Protected Ornamentals Association insists the labour shortage their industries face can be blamed on Brexit.
“We as a nation said we don’t want you.”
Ms Murray interrupted him adding, “no we didn’t say that”, but Mr Jarman continued: “We did and so they went home.
“Generally they don’t want to be here. It’s a battle whereby our staff turnover is so phenomenal at present, it’s so unstable that it’s very difficult to run a business and impossible to plan for the future.”
The agricultural worker visa was launched after farmers began culling healthy livestock because of a lack of staff.