The government has announced it will release 800 temporary visas for overseas abattoir workers to stem a national shortage of butchers.
According to the National Pig Association, farmers have had to destroy 6,600 healthy pigs due to a lack of workers on farms.
A combination of the pandemic and a temporary suspension of approval to export to China has led to a backlog of pigs awaiting slaughter, alongside the wider supply chain issues affecting logistics companies.
Until 31 December, up to 800 pork butchers will be eligible to apply for visas from the existing allocation in the Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme, allowing them to travel and work in the UK for a period of six months.
This will be in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible to apply to come to the UK through the skilled worker route in the points-based immigration system, the government said.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said visas could not be a long-term solution, and urged the pork industry to “encourage better training offers, career options and wage increases to ensure that the sector draws on the large domestic labour pool in the UK”, as well as investing in technology.
Environment secretary George Eustice, said: “A unique range of pressures on the pig sector over recent months such as the impacts of the pandemic and its effect on export markets have led to the temporary package of measures we are announcing today.
“This is the result of close working with industry to understand how we can support them through this challenging time.”
Alongside the visas, the government said it would work with the industry to introduce animal processing on Saturdays and allow for longer working days. It will also fund a private storage aid scheme to enable meat processors to store slaughtered pigs for three to six months so they can be processed at a later date.
Last week, the National Farmers’ Union warned that the shortage of butchers could impact consumers’ Christmas plans with “empty retail shelves and product shortages becoming increasingly commonplace, and Christmas specialities such as pigs in blankets are already under threat”.
The issuing of visas for butchers was signalled by Eustice earlier in October but was greeted by some specialists with scepticism because the increasing use of temporary visas in areas of the economy experiencing labour shortages was making the migrant worker system too complex. Reform of the sponsorship system and less stringent application of English language tests for skilled worker visa applicants were also proposed as ways to alleviate the problem.