Brexit has been blamed for the shortage of foreign workers Photo: AFP

UK worker shortage threatens Christmas turkey supply

By Julie EZVAN

In a dark wooden barn in the countryside of southeast England, farmer Patrick Deeley is surrounded by a throng of 600 white turkeys at feeding time.

But the typical sight at Flower Farm near Godstone, in Surrey, belies a crisis: a lack of seasonal workers that will leave Deeley struggling to meet high festive demand.

"I don't feel confident that I'll get sufficient staff to be able to do the job that I need before Christmas," Deeley told AFP. "The pressure will be on."

Normally, Deeley could count on 12 seasonal workers by mid-December to help him pack, prepare and deliver the birds. For the last 15 years, he has recruited from Europe.

But Britain has now been out of the European Union for nearly 12 months. Free movement of people and workers across the bloc has ended, and tougher immigration rules have been introduced.

Unlike previous years, Deeley has not been able to attract a single worker from the European mainland to his 150-acre (61-hectare) family run farm in the rolling North Downs.

"Brexit is, as far as I can see, a huge contributing factor to that. It's created a massive loss of labour," he said.

Faced with a labour shortage in the poultry sector, farmers across the country have been advertising for workers. But applications are extremely rare.

"It's not the most glamorous work in the world," said Mark Gorton, who rears turkeys in Norfolk, in the east of England. "It's difficult work, it's farming seven days a week."

In previous years, Gorton said he would have had arrangements in place for 300 to 400 seasonal workers by the middle of December.

Like Deeley, this year he has none.

"We're six weeks away from when we start processing Christmas turkeys for the Christmas market and at the moment we haven't got any labour," said Gorton.

As a result, some farmers have been forced to produce fewer turkeys this year.

Supermarkets, where a shortage of truck drivers has created delays in supply of some foods, leading to empty shelves, have also reduced their orders.

For Deeley, even if farmers had "10 turkeys or 20,000", the basic shortage of skilled labor would still be a problem.

The Traditional Farm-fresh Turkey Association, an industry body, has said the majority of its members have reported a five-fold increase in orders.

And the situation will inevitably hit consumers in the pocket.

"I think people will unfortunately have to see an increase in product costs," said Deeley.

While the poultry sector is one of the hardest hit by labour shortages ahead of Christmas, it is far from being the only one.

Christmas tree providers have warned of higher prices and shortages due to increased costs of imported firs and raw materials, as well as labour and transport.

Global supply chain hold-ups and the increased cost of container shipments could have a knock-on effect on the cost of toys.

And once toys arrive at ports, a lack of lorry drivers and warehouse staff could compound problems.

Meanwhile, the pig industry is warning about a lack of abattoir staff and butchers -- many of them also foreign workers -- spiraling production costs and falling prices.

The National Pig Association called it "the biggest crisis" in decades, and would force livestock farmers to cull their animals without them going into the food chain.

That has left fears for the availability of another festive favorite served alongside turkey roast at Christmas -- "pigs in blankets" (sausages wrapped in bacon).

To help, the government, which blames the coronavirus pandemic more than Brexit, has eased immigration rules to allow 5,500 three-month work visas for seasonal workers.

Many foreign workers went back to their home countries when the global health crisis struck and have not returned.

But farmers are concerned the visa waivers will have little effect.

"Would I leave my home, my country, my job, my security, just to come over and help out a country that said we don't want you anymore? I wouldn't do it," said Deeley.

"I see the implications now of Brexit as just huge, colossal," he explained, adding it had led to a situation where foreign workers felt "unloved".

Down on the farm, difficult months lie ahead.

"I'm going to have to persuade the people that are working for me that we're going to have to work 18-19 hours a day, instead of 16," said Deeley.

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Both turkey and bacon, worst meat ever.

Turkey on table is special for westeners whereas pig head on table in Chinese New Year is gross for them.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Gobble! Gobble!

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

This is what happens when you outsource labour to such an extent in an ultraliberal internationalisation project like the EU. It's unsustainable unless you formalise it in to something like the United States for at least a certain level of legal framework that can't be done away with easily. I honestly think the EU is going to slowly fall apart over time anyway because the Euro doesn't deal with economic mismatches between countries and they keep bullying individual countries like Hungary and Poland

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

You reap what you sow.

The saddest thing, the brexit was just Boris's vehicle to become prime minister. They will eventually get rid of him; but welcome to the go-it-alone future. It's a bleak one.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

So far from the outside looking in Brexit seems like the greatest failure possible for the British economy. Could someone tell me what positive effect Brexit has had for the U.K.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The Brits need to stop eating so much meat and eat more veg-positive for health.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Both turkey and bacon, worst meat ever.

??? Bacon, yeah, salty and fatty but turkey is low fat and among the healthiest of meats. It's nowhere near as fatty and greasy as duck or goose. Those are gross.

What surprises me is that the Brits or any Europeans eat much turkey. Turkeys are native to North America and are imports to anywhere else. Turkey figures in the American Thanksgiving holiday and is a popular Christmas food alongside ham but I'm genuinely surprised to see it popular in UK.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Good time to be a turkey. I guess many businesses are addicted to cheap and disposable labor. Hopefully the change is permanent.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The US has the same problem. Is this due to Brexit too?

No, Brexit has nothing to do with this situation, although remoaners don't want to acknowledge that of course.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )


Sure. You know better than the turkey farmers themselves who are quoted in the article.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

"The Brits need to stop eating so much meat and eat more veg-positive for health."

There's no one to pick them!

Much maligned Eastern Euros left, moaning Brits refuse to pick up the slack!

"Farmers hit by a shortage of seasonal workers have resorted to giving produce away for free rather than seeing it left to rot."


All those happy Brexiteers hiding in Japan and claiming "it's got nothing to do with Brexit because there are shortages in Tonga" should be forcefully repatriated.

Made to come over and enjoy the Brexit benefits.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

The country has used cheap foreign workers for decades. When we were kids, in the summer we would go vegetable picking, no foreign workers then.

The food security level is far too low. In the EU produce was coming from those countries.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The Brits need to stop eating so much meat and eat more veg-positive for health.

The Brits will eat what they choose.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Zichi,American do turkey on Thanksgiving ,with dressing ,on Christmas it usually a feast of American , favorite foods,such as Gumbo, Spanish usually make tamales,are even BBQ

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


you are not American. No turkey for Thanksgiving this season.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Look at the face of the turkey staring right at the camera and realize you are looking at a direct ancestor of some dinosaur o_O

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Brits eat Turkey for Christmas?

Is Turkey widely popular among n the UK, like KFC in Japan popular, or just a bit of doom porn news?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

-Could someone tell me what positive effect Brexit has had for the U.K.

There are none.

Johnson, the liar-in-chief of Brexit, stole our right to travel, live and work across the EU, undermined the status, economy and unity of the UK, deprived the nation of access to a labour pool that optimised its economy, isolated the UK from the sweet spot it occupied in the Commonwealth and EU, blocked UK universities from talent, funding and research projects, pulled the rug from under the City of London and deprived a generation of Britons of opportunities they would otherwise have had. Looking ahead, tax revenues will decline, debt will increase, prices will shoot up, there will be shortages and increased poverty.

It doesn't feel like home any more. It feels like the UK has been occupied by a foreign Imperial power. Some irony there, eh?

Like many people, I'll obey the law and pay the taxes, but I won't do anything for an occupier. Whatever Johnson asks us to do, for the nation, for the economy, for anything, he can go whistle. My country has been stolen from me. What remains, Johnson's Brexit Britain - less if Scotland escape - can rot. I will be celebrating when he finally leaves office, although the damage that has been done will not be fixable. The UK is heading back to the 1970s and will decline going forward.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Turkey is the most popular meat for Christmas along with a leg of ham.

Many foreign workers were given permits to live in the UK after Brexit but many returned home during the pandemic and did not return.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My country has been stolen from me. 

By a majority of the voters. LOL.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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