Production capacity at meat processing plants is coming under pressure from a surge in staff being told to isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app.
According to British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) chief executive Nick Allen, the situation is now ‘critical’, with some meat processors are seeing around 10% of staff told to self-isolate by the app, as reports suggest that 500,000 people in England were ‘pinged’ by the app in one week alone.
UK meat plants were already suffering staff shortages due to a range of factors, including new post-Brexit rules restricting EU workers introduced at the start of this year. But the latest surge in absences, driven by increased requests to self-isolate, have exacerbated the problem, Mr Allen told the BBC.
“We are seeing our lines cut. We were short of staff anyway. Our recent survey of members showed we were 11% short (of staff). Now if members are getting a further 10% losses because of pings that is pushing over that critical 15% mark,” he said.
“As a result, companies are having to simplify down their range of products to compensate for key skills being removed from their production lines. If the UK workforce situation deteriorates further, companies will be forced to start shutting down production lines all together.”
The Government has announced that from August 16, people who are double vaccinated will be asked to take a COVID test, rather than self-isolate.
But Mr Allen called for greater clarity about how long people need to isolate for when pinged by the app and on continued access for business to free COVID testing kits, which is due to end on July 19.
He said the issue wasn’t always about the sheer numbers being told isolate, but the loss of key skills required in some production lines that can’t be covered.
He reiterated the BMPA’s calls to add butchers to the Shortage Occupation List, which would allow the industry to temporarily fill these growing vacancies with overseas workers until the current crisis has passed. Some meat processing firms recruit 80% of their staff from the EU and the new rules introduced at the start have crated recruitment difficulties across the processing sector, according to Mr Allen.