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Wanted temporarily in post-Brexit Britain: 800 foreign butchers to slaughter some 120,000 pigs

Britain's pig industry has been calling for government aid to address a shortage of slaughterhouse workers. (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg News)
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Britain will issue up to 800 temporary visas to foreign butchers in an effort to alleviate a labor shortage in the pork industry that has already led to the culling of some 6,000 healthy pigs.

The stopgap measure was crafted in response to “a unique range of pressures on the pig sector over recent months,” said George Eustice, a British minister in charge of food, in a statement. Among the causes he mentioned were the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic and import restrictions China has placed on British suppliers.

The shortage of slaughterhouse workers has created what Britain’s pig lobby calls its biggest crisis in over two decades, with roughly 120,000 pigs waiting to be slaughtered. An estimated 15,000 extra pigs are added to farms across the country each week, putting greater strain on farmers struggling to find enough space and feed for their herd.

Slaughterhouse jobs tend to be tedious and physically demanding. In Britain, such work was largely carried out by migrant labor from Eastern Europe, who reportedly constituted up to 80 percent of the country’s slaughterhouse workforce. But many workers have returned home as a result of covid travel restrictions, while Britain’s departure from the European Union has curbed the ability for new E.U. migrants to easily take up jobs there.

But Eustice told reporters Thursday that London will not loosen the English-language requirements it has placed on “skilled” work visa-holders. The pig industry had asked for those visas to be granted to slaughterhouse workers, but the government did not think it would solve the industry’s challenges, he said, according to Reuters.

The National Pig Association said in a statement that it was “very relieved” to see the latest package of relief measures.

Fuel, beer and chicken: Why Britain’s shortages keep coming

Keir Starmer, who leads the opposition Labour Party, criticized the new policies for not addressing the national labor shortage. Just last month, the British government said it would issue up to 10,500 temporary work visas to long-haul truck drivers and poultry workers.

“The characteristic of this government is no plan,” Starmer said on Thursday.

Britain’s Conservative government has been reluctant to ease immigration restrictions on blue-collar workers. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s hope is that tight labor conditions will prompt employers to invest in productivity training and offer Britons higher wages.

But for this year, at least, British residents have felt the effects of occasionally empty grocery store shelves, cars lined up for hours outside gas stations because there aren’t enough truck drivers to transport fuel and even a shortage of McDonald’s milkshakes.