Poultry industry facing labour shortage as ‘perfect storm’ hit chicken factories

Representative iStock image

The British poultry industry has lost more than 15 per cent of its staff to Brexit and immigration laws, British Poultry Council said today (18), as the industry continues to face “perfect storm” comprising labour shortage, higher wages, higher energy cost, higher cost of animal feed and supply chain crises.

Already a driver shortage has led to a lack of fuel at gas stations and gaps on supermarket shelves, while chicken restaurant chain Nandos ran out of chicken.

As chicken farms thriving on lesser labours, there have been reports of sales, marketing and finance staff of chicken factories being forced “to don the long white coats and hairnets that are needed on the processing line”.

The sudden rise in wages and the drop in output also come on top of spikes in the cost of animal feed, energy and fuel, carbon dioxide, cardboard and plastic packaging, claimed a farm owner who said that he now has no option than to raise prices.

“We’ve just had to say to our customers, sorry, the price is going up,” Reuter quoted Driffield-based Nigel Upson. “We’re losing money, big style.” 

While UK prime minister Boris Johnson says businesses need to cut their addiction to cheap foreign labour now, invest in technology and offer well-paid jobs to some of the 1.5 million unemployed people in Britain, Upson pointed out that with almost equal high numbers of vacancies in the country, people can be choosy.

“Working in a chicken factory isn’t everybody’s idea of a career,” he said.

While all major economies have been hit by supply chain problems and labour shortage after the pandemic, Britain’s tough new immigration rules have made it harder to recover, businesses say.

Although 5,500 foreign poultry workers will be allowed to work in Britain before Christmas, and emergency visas will be given to 800 foreign butchers to avoid a mass pig cull sparked by a shortage in abattoirs, the industry says it needs more.

The National Farmers’ Union and other food bodies said in a recent report that parts of the UK’s food and drink supply chain were “precariously close to market failure”, limiting the ability to invest in automation.

The report comes close in heels after “Chicken King” Ranjit Singh Boparan, founder of the UK’s biggest producer 2 Sisters, said that it is time to “reset” and food prices in the UK must rise.

“Food is too cheap,” Boparan said. “In relative terms, chicken today is cheaper to buy than it was 20 years ago. How can it be right that a whole chicken costs less than a pint of beer?”