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Food sector staff shortages to make for a lean festive season

By Brightwork

Written by Shan Saba - as featured in The Herald, Scotland.

The “pingdemic” and HGV driver crisis has led to shortages in our supermarkets and has become a daily topic for most of us in Scotland.

At Brightwork we supply most of this country’s largest food and drink manufacturers with permanent and temporary recruitment services. As such, I now find that friends and family are asking me what will be happening over the next few months with our food supplies.

We have seen the most dramatic decrease in the availability of workers for years. Every month since Brexit officially started in January 2021, there has been a significant drop in the non-UK workforce, and it has been difficult to replace these vacant roles with Scottish workers.


COVID-19 and the controls and quarantines that have been required to combat it have accelerated the departure of many of those who previously worked in our food supply chain. For many of those who went back to their home nation during the worst of the crisis, it was just too expensive for them to quarantine to make the return to Scotland. Instead, they stayed where they were, or they went to work in another country in the European Union.

Shift patterns have had to be changed to allow for “bubbling” of workers so that they do not cross over, allowing the food and drink supply to be maintained in the event of an outbreak. Many of the new shifts do not allow for flexibility which again has made it more difficult to recruit.

Pay rates will inevitably have to rise to attract our local workforce into these jobs, and equally importantly, the employee proposition will have to improve to make the sector and its workplaces a more attractive proposition. Businesses that are stuck in their ways, accustomed to the days of plentiful labour when there was no financial imperative to treat their workers well, will have to accept that those times are over.

The need for a genuinely attractive place in which to work has never been more important, as the recent social media storm around the working environment at Brewdog has shown. The fall-out from that has been hugely damaging for a brand that had been fantastic at marketing, and they have now publicly apologised and promised an independent review of operations.


Change is what is needed across the industry: pay rates and shift patterns need to be looked at and matched up with what potential workers are looking for, and most importantly, the culture of many businesses across the sector needs an overhaul. If the hire-and-fire, screaming-and-shouting style has never been challenged from the top – or even worse, if it comes from the top – then no matter what you pay, you won’t retain staff.

It is hoped that the combination of the further lifting of restrictions by the Scottish Government on August 9, changes to the rules for key workers and self-isolation, and the end of the furlough scheme will ease the labour shortages we’ve been witnessing. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that will be the case.

Visa-based schemes for certain areas of agriculture have been in place for several years to alleviate the issues caused by Brexit, but the UK Government doesn’t intend to have any of these in place for the other hard-hit sectors.

This means that we will have to accept that the variety and scale of choice that we have been used to in our shops will not be the case as we start preparing for the run-up to the holidays, which is our busiest time of the year. The labour shortage in the food and distribution sector will only get worse, with the fight for workers intensifying. Employers must act now to improve how they attract and retain them.

The Scottish brand is renowned for its quality and heritage globally, but if there isn’t quick action from our politicians and businesses, we are heading towards a Christmas that will be remembered for the struggle to buy what we wanted.

An Overview of Brightwork Recruitment:

Brightwork is Scotland’s leading employment agency, providing Permanent, Contract, Temporary and OnSite solutions. Reliability, certainty and productivity are central to our service.

We work hand-in-hand with our clients as an integral business partner. Our candidates' work experience is equally important to us and we focus on helping them find the best jobs, working for the most reputable clients.

We resource, recruit and mobilise large-scale workforces to meet the ever-changing needs of our clients: matching peaks and troughs on a continual basis. Our key goal is to create flexibility, implement retention strategies, deliver efficiencies and drive performance.

Find out more at: https://www.brightwork.co.uk/

by Brightwork

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