Labour shortages in the UK food sector are set to be filled by inmates and ex-offenders after industry leaders demanded action.
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) held talks with the Ministry of Justice and HM Prisons & Probation Service today (Monday) after national food supplies were impacted.
AIMS spokesperson Tony Goodger said the plans will come into effect “immediately” and AIMS members have been notified about the opportunities to have empty vacancies filled as part of the programme.
AIMS said the agreement meant businesses would be linked up with prisoners who are part of the Release On Temporary Licence (ROTL) programme, which allows temporary release to inmates in open prisons to allow them to gain work experience.
Goodger said various AIMS members have already employed inmates as part of the ROTL programme, in which participants were described as “well behaved, hard-working, and willing to learn,” and the programme was working well for suppliers.
Goodger said this created a long-term avenue into the industry for workers, as many inmates on the programme indicated they wished to continue working in the food processing industry post-release.
Food labour shortages have been hitting food suppliers and supermarkets across the country.
The industry currently has a shortfall of around 14,000 workers, according to AIMS.
Goodger said: “Much of the food industry is facing a recruitment crisis. The advice we have received from the Home Office is that the UK’s domestic labour force should take priority. However hard we and many of the members of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers have tried, staffing remains a challenge.”
AIMS previously warned of turkey and seasonal food supply shortages at Christmas, and said if the government didn’t offer immediate support there would be shortages in the supermarkets.
“The likelihood of no action is, we believe, the market chasing employees with higher rates of pay. These rates will have to be passed on to the consumer thereby leading to food price inflation,” Goodger said.
AIMS is also calling for the government to introduce a two-year Covid recovery working visa to allow EU workers to help tackle labour shortages within critical industries.
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