LONDON (The Guardian) - Desperate food manufacturers are pleading with the government to be able to call upon prisoners to solve a labor crisis blamed on the double blow of Brexit and Covid.
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, which represents butchers, abattoirs and processors, said it had a call set up with the Ministry of Justice on Monday that would explore how its members could recruit more current inmates and ex-offenders.
To fill vacancies companies are trying to draft in prisoners via a scheme that allows inmates to undertake paid work on day release. They are also contacting charities for ex-servicemen and women to try to drum up staff.
Tony Goodger of the meat suppliers’ association said some of its members already had inmates on the release on temporary license program working for them and found them to be an asset. It had also been in contact with the Career Transition Partnership, which helps former service personnel into work, and had been able to point some of them to members with job vacancies; however, the “numbers are low”, he said.
Goodger said that last week he had contacted HMP Hollesley Bay in Suffolk, but the rehabilitation officer said there was such a big demand for inmates “we’ve reached our quota and we are not allowed to let any more out to go to work”.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA), whose membership includes the UK’s meat processing companies, said businesses were “leaving no stone unturned” to find workers, including contacting the Prison Service.
The prisoner day-release scheme was curtailed during the pandemic but individual prisons have been reintroducing it in recent months.
The shortage of workers is not just in food production – a shortfall of about 90,000 HGV drivers is leading to gaps on supermarket shelves. In a letter to Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and freight trade group Logistics UK have warned that consumers will suffer unless the government intervened.
The worker shortage is having a knock-on effect on the hospitality trade, which is also struggling to recruit enough staff, and absences caused by Covid-19 or the need to isolate are adding to problems. Last week Nando’s had to close a 10th of its restaurants due to a shortage of chicken.