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UK firms recruiting prisoners in bid to improve food supply chains

Desperate UK firms are now attempting to alleviate labour shortages by hiring prisoners under HM Prison Service's Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme. Among those seeking to use the scheme are meat suppliers, who claim they need to assess all the options available having suffered from labour shortages post-Brexit.

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The news comes after restaurant chain Nando’s was forced to close dozens of stores in Great Britain due to problems with its chicken supply – issues it admits have not affected any of its branches in the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. KFC has also recently had challenges with the supply of its packaging and some product lines.

British Meat Processors Association representative Nick Allen has referred to the problems at Nando’s as “the tip of the iceberg”.

In addition, Allen told The Sunday Times yesterday that businesses are “leaving no stone unturned” in their attempts to hire workers – including prisoners:

“Businesses are leaving no stone unturned to find workers, including contacting charities for ex-servicemen and women and the prison service, as well as advertising on social media to attract younger people.”

In order to recruit prisoners, some business in the UK are using HM Prison Service’s Release on Temporary Licence (ROTL) scheme, which allows inmates to do paid work on day release.

However, the scheme has its limits. A Meat Suppliers Association representative has told the Guardian that the demand for inmates at a Suffolk prison is so high that it has already reached its quota.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman is also quoted in the Guardian as saying the UK Government will look to restore the worker quotas back up to pre-pandemic levels:

“Helping prisoners find jobs during their sentence and after release makes it much less likely they will reoffend. We will support all industries with skills shortages where possible, and are working towards bringing levels [of release on temporary licence] back up towards pre-pandemic levels as restrictions allow.”

The situation with labour shortages in the meat production sector somewhat mirrors that in the haulage industry, where lorry drivers have long been in short supply in the UK. Industry bodies from both sectors have repeatedly said Brexit is one of the factors that has created the shortages, and cited temporary visas as being a vital short term fix.

However, the UK Government has continually stressed that there will be no change to the immigration rules, meaning companies will not be able to use labour from abroad to remedy their staff shortages.

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