Meat sector leaders were in talks with government officials today (23 August) over how their businesses could deploy prisoners to help fill vacancies.
Abattoirs, butchers and meat processors have seen significant labour shortages since Brexit and the return of many workers to the EU, causing some dislocation to supplies meat to retailers and restaurants.
Prisoners on the Release on Temporary Licence scheme could be utilised, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers has said, adding there are currently about 14,000 job vacancies across the sector.
The scheme is a risk-assessed temporary release programme through which inmates in open prisons gain work experience to help them reintegrate into society.
The association’s Tony Goodger said companies that needed staff would be able to work with the Ministry of Justice to put them in contact with prison services.
People about to leave prison or current inmates would then be recruited.
He added that it up to the association’s members who precisely they employed.
“They [prisons] have got offenders and prison-leavers, we have got members who need labour. It seems sensible to bring the two together,” he said.
“We have suggested that they look at some of the other free training available such as the FSA’s allergen training and vacuum packing training, in order that offenders can leave prisons job-ready,” he added.
Turkey processing giant Bernard Matthews is among firms that regularly visits prisons as part of its recruitment cycle, to assess candidates and offer inmates contracts to start upon release.
Some prisons already teach inmates food safety skills, which could help inmates and ex-inmates find work in the industry.
The British Meat Processors Association said the current level of vacancies represented about 15% of the industry’s workforce and that its members were “trying absolutely every avenue” to recruit workers.
Meanwhile, the government has announced the expansion of a kitchen training scheme across prisons in England and Wales.
The Clink Kitchens Scheme, currently running in eight jails, allows prisoners to train in professionally run prison kitchens for up to 35 hours a week while working towards professional qualifications. The Ministry of Justice has announced it is set to be rolled out in 25 more jails by the end of the year.