Christmas chaos as 5,500 short-term EU work visas ‘not enough’ to put turkeys on shelves

Farming: 5,500 short-term visas 'not enough' warns expert

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Speaking to Radio 4’s Farming Today, Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union, and Shane Brennan, CEO of the Cold Storage Federarion, warned the Government’s emergency scheme to give 5,500 three-month work visas to poultry workers from outside the UK – and 5,000 to HGV drivers visas – is too little too late. They shared deep concerns about the run up to Christmas.

While welcoming the Government move, Ms Batters stressed how the supply chain does not need “too much disruption for things to go wrong”.

She added how these issues are also compounded by the soaring costs of goods in the UK as shortages of staff and fuel in Britain are thrown into the equation.

The union president said: “The run up to Christmas things only get more challenging and so that is why this ask has been in [for the visas].

“And it is a shame to be honest that we are having this conversation today and that we haven’t seen action to date.”

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But host Charlotte Smith did stress action is being taken “in the short-term” in the form of the visas.

She said: “The Government announced 10,000 new short-term visas for workers to come from abroad.

“5,500 to work in the poultry industry for three months in the run up to Christmas – that is all to do with turkeys on shelves.

“And 5,000 to drive HGVs.”

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Mr Brennan was then asked if those visas will work to deliver Christmas for millions of Britons this year.

He replied: “We are going to try and make it work or work as far as it can.

“But the reality is not 5,500 is not enough in a world where we are missing 100,000 drivers.”

The cold storage expert went on to hit out at the move by the Government, accusing them of trying to “shoehorn” recruitment for drivers into a seasonal agricultural worker scheme.

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He explained: “It doesn’t really feel like it is going to work in the timeframes they have set for it to be achieved.”

Mr Brennan added: “On the one hand we are being told to act today to do it and on the other hand we don’t know when the scheme will start.

“And it probably won’t start until the end of the month.”

Ms Batters added: “It is a very welcome move for the poultry sector, but we are running out of time.”

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