Northern Ireland’s farmers welcome movement on visas as ‘encouraging start’ to labour woes

Northern Ireland’s farmers welcome movement on visas as ‘encouraging start’ to labour woes

The Ulster Farmers’ Union has welcomed the ‘slight movement’ on the UK government’s stance following the announcement that it will issue 800 six-month visas for the pork processing sector to address ongoing abattoir labour shortages.

Earlier this month, the UFU had warned that retailers in Northern Ireland could face more limited supplies of pork and ham this Christmas due to the processing problems.

Deputy president WIlliam Irvine had warned that it may be necessary to cull healthy pigs if it proves impossible to get more throughput through processing factories, raising the danger that speciality product lines in stores could be more limited this Christmas.

Labour shortages

Following the latest visa news, Mr Irvine said: “After a long period of intense lobbying by the UFU, we are glad that finally, some positive progression has been made on the issue of labour shortages. 

“Processors across Northern Ireland have been seriously understaffed for quite some time now and this has been putting pressure on our farmers to house extra livestock as well as impacting their cashflow – especially when you take into account ongoing high feed prices.

However, while the movement on temporary visas is an encouraging start to help fill the vacancies in the processing plants and hopefully, help them to get back to the level of processing that is required, we fear it’s not going to fix the problem entirely, but it may be a start.”

Falls short

Mr Irvine warned that the number of temporary visas granted falls short of what is needed, but said the union appreciates the government making them available to workers outside the UK. 

“In the meantime, we will continue to engage at the highest level. Other food processing sectors must not be forgotten about as labour affects across the board,” he said.

“We will ensure that work continues to overcome this labour shortage completely and drive the industry away from a looming crisis.”

Earlier this month he warned that the labour shortage could hit consumer choice.

“They’re streamlining product in every way they can and delivering the most handy and speedy cuts, so consumer choice is going to be limited,” he said.

“Demand from GB is strong, so in the run-up to Christmas there will be a reduced number of lines.

“If you want a nice ham for Christmas I would buy it soon and have it in the freezer, rather than leaving it until Christmas Eve.”