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A Pig’s Ear? Brexit Christmas Chaos and a Confused Immigration Policy

Pork butchers were already welcome to the UK on the Government’s new Skilled Workers Route, as it launches a short-term scheme for butchers on seasonal workers visas

Ginger tamworth pigs in a field. Photo: Stephen Barnes/Farming/Alamy

A Pig’s Ear? Brexit Christmas Chaos& a Confused Immigration Policy

Pork butchers were already welcome to the UK on the Government’s new Skilled Workers Route, as it launches a short-term scheme for butchers on seasonal workers visas

The Home Office announced on 14 October its plans to approve 800 temporary visas for pork butchers until 31 December 2021 as part of its Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme – in spite of the fact that butchers were already recognised as eligible to come to the UK on the Skilled Worker Route as part of its points-based immigration system.

On its website, the Home Office explains how the “temporary adjustment is in addition to foreign butchers already being eligible since December 2020 to apply to come to the UK through the Skilled Worker Route as part of the point-based immigration system.”

The Skilled Work Visa has replaced the old “Tier 2” visa and allows people to come to the UK “to do an eligible job with an approved employer”. It is generally recognised that the jobs in question are those where there is a shortage in the UK and ranges from butchers to ballerinas. 

To qualify for a Skilled Work Visa, the minimum salary for the type of work a person is employed to do has to be the highest of three options: at least £26,500 per year; £10.10 per hour or the “going rate” for the type of work.

For butchers, that lowest “going rate” is £19,300 per year or £9.52 per hour. 

However, those eligible for a visa on the new Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme only specifies an employer must pay the minimum wage of £8.91 per hour for people aged 23 and over. For workers aged 18-20, the minimum wage is £6.56 per hour and lower again for those aged 16-17. 

The decision to focus on short-term seasonal workers rather than use its own skilled worker route to encourage butchers to come and meet the shortages suggests a confused immigration policy that is at odds with the Government’s commitment to “build a high-wage, high-skilled economy, instead of relying on overseas labour.”

The granting of temporary seasonal workers visas instead allows for producers to continue to pay low-wages to foreign workers. 

“The Government says it wants to create a high-wage, high-skill economy, but recently we’ve seen it creating a slew of temporary visas, allowing bosses to treat migrant workers as though they are disposable” Zoe Gardner, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) told Byline Times. “Worryingly, its most recent plans give slaughterhouses a green light to hire butchers – previously categorised as high-skilled – on minimum wage. Sadly the Government shows no sign of stopping when it comes to propping up entire industries with these short-term visas that breed exploitation and abuse.”

The granting of 800 temporary visas followed the cull of 6,000 pigs across England as there simply weren’t enough trained butchering staff to manage the supply.


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Headless Chickens

As well as pork butchers, poultry workers will also be able to work in the UK under the extended Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme, including pluckers, catchers, trussers and poultry stickers. Their eligibility includes being paid as little as the minimum wage. 

Poultry butchers and processors are also listed on the Skilled Workers Route list, although at lower pay than their pork peers. 

The need for more poultry workers has come as the Government seeks to reassure people that Christmas will go ahead with turkey dinners, with butcher shortages now combining with a lack of trained HGV lorry drivers on the roads.

The subsequent supply chain issues have led to businesses warning of shortages of must-have toys and books, as well as traditional festive food.

Pro-Brexit commentators such as Isabelle Oakeshott have stepped in to tell families that “Christmas joy” should not be dependent on food and toys.

And it’s not just chickens for Christmas. This week the restaurant chain Pizza Express reported running out of its signature bolognese sauce as ingredients were delayed due to supply chain issues. It follows Nandos which called supply chain issues a bit of a “mare” (short for nightmare) after it had to temporarily shut 50 of its restaurants.

While the issuing of temporary visas for everyone from pig butchers to poultry stickers and lorry drivers seeks to relieve short-term pressures on supply chains, it speaks to deeper issues with the current immigration policy that seeks to reduce the amount of migration and implement a points-based system.

“Restricting migrants rights is no way to address low pay or poor conditions,” Gardner added. “If the Government were serious about creating a fairer economy, it would be improving labour standards, raising wages and treating migrant workers as people, not commodities.”

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