Meat processors face soaring costs employing overseas staff

Meat processors are paying huge additional sums to recruit overseas workers to bridge the shortfall in domestic workers, the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) says.

UK meat companies are having to pay £10-£15,000 per person in one-off costs to bring staff in from as far afield as Asia. This is adding extra cost to UK food price inflation, which was close to a record high of 18.4% in May.

See also: Meat processors operating abroad as labour shortages bite

Nick Allen, BMPA chief executive, said two of its members had committed a total of £10m in the past 18 months to recruit staff from abroad because suitable candidates were not available in the UK.

“It’s an extra cost on top of wages that we never had before we left the EU. It’s also in addition to a near 20% rise in wages,” he added.

“To stay viable, these costs are having to be passed on to consumers, stoking food price inflation, and making British companies less competitive.”

Visa costs

In a further blow to recruitment plans for meat processing companies, the UK government has announced the costs of work and visit visas will go up by 15%.

However, the time frame for the introduction of these price increases has not been revealed.

Mr Allen said many private employers are having to foot the bill for these charges to incentivise workers to come to the UK.

If these extra charges are not covered, the UK will become a less attractive destination for overseas talent, he added.

Rishi Sunak says legal immigration into the UK is “too high” after data from the Office for National Statistics showed net migration into UK for 2022 was 606,000.

But the prime minister has not put a precise figure on what a reasonable level of legal migration might be.

Mr Allen said a balance needs to be struck between short-term reliance on overseas workers and a longer-term shift in how this country perceives and values certain careers, including in the food and farming sector.