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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