Lower English language requirements to ease shortage of butchers, say MPs

Strict English language requirements are creating an ‘unnecessary barrier’ to hiring butchers as the food industry grapples with a severe labor shortage that could drive up prices, MPs have warned.

MPs on the environment, food and rural affairs select committee have urged the government to ‘immediately’ lower the English language requirement to a ‘basic user level’ for worker visa roles qualified in the food and agricultural industries.

Neil Parish, the chairman of the committee, said the visa situation for butchers had improved since last year when farmers were forced to slaughter around 35,000 pigs on farms due to lack of staff in processing plants.

But he said the UK was ‘still asking for too high a level of English’ with the same requirements for a butcher as for a veterinarian.

He said: ‘The English language requirement is too high and creates an unnecessary barrier to recruiting much-needed skilled butchers. This policy change is essential, and we see no reason not to do so. »

In a report published on Wednesday, the committee warned that Britain’s food industry risked ‘permanent damage’ if ministers did not act now to address labor shortages.

MPs lambasted the government’s response to concerns about the shortage of workers, saying industry leaders had made ‘valiant attempts’ but that ‘ministers failed to understand the issues and even sought to dismiss the fault in the sector”.

Mr Parish said: “In 2021, farmers faced an extraordinary situation – crops were left to rot in the fields and healthy pigs were slaughtered due to a lack of workers.

“This has serious implications for the well-being of the people who put food on our tables now and in the future. The government’s attitude to the plight of food and agriculture workers has was particularly disappointing.”

They warned that the sector “faces a permanent contraction if the failure to address its severe labor shortages results in higher wages, higher prices, reduced competitiveness and, ultimately account, the export of food production abroad and an increase in imports”. He is currently worth over £100 billion.

MPs have called on George Eustice, the environment secretary, to provide ‘direct support’ to pig farmers, who have been asking for help for months. On Wednesday, Kate Morgan, a pig farmer from Yorkshire, said the situation was “pretty desperate”.

She said: “We’ve had a tough nine months which have been brought on by labor shortages.”

Last month, Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association, said there was little in the Chancellor’s spring statement that would directly alleviate some of the pressures on farmers. Pig farmers were losing around £39 for each pig in the last three months of 2021, Ms Davies said, which was likely to get worse in the first three months of 2022. She blamed rising feed prices feed and energy, while the price of pork in supermarkets remained stable.

“We will only see a mass exodus if the government doesn’t intervene. We won’t have a UK pig industry by summer,” she said last month.

It comes as inflation bites into the food industry, with dairy farmers holding crisis talks in Brussels last week over soaring costs. Industry bosses have told the Telegraph the price of a pint is set to soar by 50%.

MPs said major changes were needed to stop Britain becoming more dependent on overseas food suppliers. He said efforts to address the labor shortage in the food industry could include revising immigration rules to make it less complex and less costly for employers to bring in workers from the EU. foreigner. They said the pilot program for seasonal workers should also be made permanent.

They added: “However, reliance on foreign labor must be reduced in favor of a long-term workforce strategy that grows and develops local talent.”

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