Too little too late seems a like a phrase thrown around about the Government regarding our industry all too often lately. Sadly the latest initiative released this evening where 16 sectors, including food production, have been chosen to make exemptions from isolation for workers who have been fully vaccinated is another one of those examples. It sounds like a great headline, however reading the small print, we find that business's have to apply to their relevant Government department and the exemption will only apply to a "limited number of named workers".
The current labour shortage cuts much deeper than the imminent "pingdemic". Already the industry is becoming crippled under the strain of staff taking holidays they couldn't take last year due to lock down, the Immigration Rights of European Nationals which took effect on 1st July along with Covid related absence which is set to return to the levels from the beginning of the year as national and local positive cases continue to rise. In February this year we experienced absences due to Covid at unprecedented levels due to an outbreak on out site. Our team pulled out all the stops and together with the help from our labour providers, we were able to continue trading and hardly went down on an order. If the same were to happen today, the likelihood of putting in the same performance is next to zero. Our labour providers are losing more staff than they can recruit. The Government is telling them to recruit British workers but they simply aren't there to apply for the roles available.
Competition for factory and field based work is stronger than ever which is pushing up costs as employers fight for those staff that are available. Combined with the truck driver shortage, the factory and field worker shortage is turning the threat of empty supermarket shelves into less of a threat and more like a dead cert. And of course the next hurdle which is just around the corner will be another bout of panic buying just to spice things up. Retailers are already reporting store closures and asking the general public not to panic buy toilet roll. This seems to me like the very best way to encourage customers to flock to the stores and fill their boots. In turn this puts more pressure on suppliers to increase production using a staff they simply don't have.
So will a possible exemption on a "limited number of named workers" in our industry solve the problem? I very much doubt it, even if we do get a letter from Boris telling us some of our team can return to work after they've had a negative daily test. Even if it applies to all of our workforce, we are still lagging behind the national average in terms of those of our team with two does of the vaccine. The national vaccination figures look fantastic and the Government must be praised for the roll out compared to most other countries. However when you dig deeper, the Eastern European community which our sector relies on so heavily are not so keen to have their jabs. Talking to one labour provider this week, the vaccination take up among their staff was at around 2%. They put busses on to take staff to walk in vaccination centres and not one person showed up. So it's fine releasing those that are fully vaccinated back to work, but when a huge proportion of our industry hasn't even had their first jab yet, it's a rather pointless exercise.