The U.K. government will grant 5,500 workers visas to work on poultry farms and processing plants in the run-up to Christmas. Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the measure alongside a similar scheme for fuel and food lorry drivers, amid scenes of customers queueing for petrol stations and facing reduced choice at supermarkets. He told the BBC that “we are acting now, but the industries must also play their part with working conditions continuing to improve and the deserved salary increases continuing to be maintained.” Numerous retail and business consortiums, however, are not impressed, with British Chambers of Commerce comparing the schemes to “throwing a thimble of water on a bonfire.”
The measures recall November 2020, when it was the COVID-19 pandemic that the government saw as putting turkey supplies at risk. The response was to “allow” EU workers to arrive and work together without quarantining, while requiring them to self-isolate from anybody outside their workplace for fourteen days because of the risk of viral transmission. They could not put members of the public at risk, but were afforded no such protection themselves, despite numerous reports and investigations documenting meat plants’ increased risk of coronavirus transmission, even when workers live and work in smaller groups, with the lack of airflow, close proximity, and temperatures combining to provide a fertile source of spread. Several U.K. meat plants and food factories closed in 2020 after reporting hundreds of cases of novel coronavirus, among a workforce largely made up of immigrant workers on precarious zero hour contracts mediated by agencies, often unable to avoid work when unwell.
This time around, the government is asking workers to forget the xenophobia and the implementation of policies barring them the country, and just pluck the turkeys.
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