Labour shortages could lead to pigs being slaughtered at birth, says Poots

A shortage of workers in the food supply industry could result in pigs being slaughtered at birth in Northern Ireland, the Agriculture Minister has told MLAs.

Edwin Poots, speaking during ministerial question time at Stormont, said the problems facing the agri-food sector due to labour shortages are “extremely urgent”.

He was asked to give an update on labour problems facing the meat processing industry and highlighted shortages in relation to the number of slaughter plant operatives and butchers in abattoirs and processing plants.

Mr Poots added: “I have been engaging extensively and have held numerous meetings with stakeholders from across our food processing sector about their concerns and how best to resolve the issue.

“Despite employers offering competitive wages and other incentives, they have struggled to recruit all the workers they need because an insufficient appetite exists amongst our domestic workforce for those types of jobs.”

He continued: “For a significant period of time we have relied on migrant workers to fill the labour gap in the agri-food industry. Stakeholders though have indicated that the new UK immigration system has removed a previously existing route to fulfil vacancies.

“A new system, while offering a route to fill vacancies, is cumbersome, and firms report that it is extremely difficult for them to identify migrants who fulfil all elements of the eligibility criteria and have identified the English language requirement as a particular barrier.

“I am obviously very concerned at the situation. My focus has been ongoing communication at top levels with Government in Whitehall to highlight the severity of the problem. It is hoped that we can remedy the situation as quickly as possible.”

Sinn Fein and SDLP MLAs said the labour shortage was a direct result of Brexit, which the DUP minister supported.

Mr Poots said: “As someone who was a supporter of Brexit, I wanted to see an end to the open door policy in terms of immigration, but we should be in a position where we can bring people in where we need them.

“We certainly need them in the food industry and that is the point I have been making repeatedly to the UK Government. I do think it needs to be looked at again by Whitehall.”

UUP MLA Roy Beggs raised concerns about animal welfare issues caused by the labour shortage in the agri-food industry (PA)
UUP MLA Roy Beggs raised concerns about animal welfare issues caused by the labour shortage in the agri-food industry (PA)



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