Retailers say they are under “increasing pressure” to keep shelves fully stocked amid staff shortages caused by the “pingemia”.
Industry bosses have warned that supply chains ‘are starting to fail’ due to the number of workers, including truck drivers and meat processors, who are being cracked by the NHS COVID application.
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Shoppers have already taken to social media to highlight empty supermarket shelves in parts of the country.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has now urged the government to change the self-isolation guidelines to help address the issue.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at BRC, said in-store staff and suppliers should be allowed to work even if they receive an alert to self-isolate for 10 days.
“The ongoing ‘pingdemia’ is putting increasing pressure on the ability of retailers to maintain opening hours and stock shelves,” he said.
“The government must act quickly. Retailers and suppliers, who have played a vital role throughout this pandemic, should be allowed to work provided they are double vaccinated or can show a coronavirus test, to ensure that there is no disruption of the public’s ability to obtain food and other goods.
“With cases soaring in the community, the number of healthy retail workers needing to self-isolate is rapidly increasing, disrupting retail operations. “
Getting mad by the app means you have to self-isolate for 10 days – but unlike being contacted by Test and Trace, this is a referral rather than a legal requirement.
The latest figures show that more than 500,000 people were polled by the app in the week leading up to July 7, which has fear that millions of people will be forced out of their jobs as coronavirus cases increase.
The government rejected calls to change the sensitivity of the app, but announced exemptions for certain workers identified as critical.
Ministers initially said there were no plans to provide a specific list of jobs that would be included – but Home Office Minister Victoria Atkins earlier told Sky’s Kay Burley that a the list of exempt workers is “worked”.
British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen has since criticized the government’s “confusing messages”, saying ministers had not clarified who was applicable.
Mr Allen said the shortage of skills and workers for permanent positions was “extremely high”, with vacancies already high before the increase in staff isolations.
“We have heard reports that factories had between 10% and 16% vacancy even before absenteeism due to COVID was factored in,” he said.
In addition to the underlying shortage of workers, some members also tell us that between 5% and 10% of their workforce has been ‘pinged’ by the app and asked to self-isolate.
“There is a real air of despondency spreading in the industry.”
Calling for the introduction of work permits so Europeans can work in the industry to bridge the gap, he added: “The things the government could do to help us right now are not doing it. And the shelves are starting to appear. “
Nigel Upson, owner of Soanes Poultry, a family-owned processing plant in East Yorkshire, said on Wednesday its workforce had shrunk by 20%.
He and many players in the poultry industry have had to cut production by up to 10%.
“What this means is that we have stopped all work that does not process chicken, for example, processing hearts, liver, gizzards and feet for consumption,” he said. .
“Everything is now in the dumpster because we don’t have enough staff.”
Mr Upson said none of his employees had been questioned, but four had self-isolated after testing positive. The remainder of the shortfall is due to long-term vacancies.
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Mr Upson continued, “It’s a very difficult time. Things like ‘pingemia’ haven’t helped, but the biggest problem is that there just aren’t enough people to fill these out. roles.
“We have relied heavily on migrant workers, but since Brexit and the pandemic many of them have returned home. The problem is, there is no one to replace them.”
Tony Goodger, of the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, said the pressure is expected to increase over the summer when demand for meat increases due to barbecues and the number of people staying in the country rather than traveling. abroad on vacation.
But in a blow to these potential barbecue plans, there are warnings that the equipment could be threatened by a shortage of gas cylinders also linked to “pingemia”.