Companies have begged ministers to ease the meat industry’s labour “crisis” by letting them recruit more prisoners.
It comes as the boss of Waitrose warned that supply disruptions meant families might have to go without a turkey this Christmas.
The Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS) told The Guardian it would speak to the Ministry of Justice today about recruiting more inmates.
Its members hope to draft in convicts for paid work on day release.
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Although some businesses already employ prisoners on a temporary licence programme, the numbers are thought to be low.
“However hard we and many of the members have tried, staffing remains a challenge,” AIMS consultant Tony Goodger said.
He contacted HMP Hollesley Bay in Suffolk last week, but was told the demand for inmates was too great.
“We’ve reached our quota and we are not allowed to let any more out to go to work,” a prisoner officer reportedly said.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said businesses were “leaving no stone unturned” to recruit workers, including contacting the Prison Service.
The prisoner day-release scheme was stopped during the Covid-19 pandemic, but individual prisons have reintroduced it in recent months.
Last week, Waitrose chief executive James Bailey claimed the UK could face a shortage of Christmas turkeys thanks to “monumental structural challenges” in the supply chain.
The grocer’s meat suppliers believe that up to half of their butchers have permanently returned to eastern Europe.