Eastern European workers arrive at Norfolk and Suffolk turkey plants ahead of Christmas

Poultry workers at Bernard Matthews

Eastern European poultry workers have been drafted in to Bernard Matthews' turkey factories ahead of Christmas - Credit: Bernard Matthews

About 900 workers from the European Union have been drafted in to boost festive workforces across a food producer's East Anglian turkey factories.

Bernard Matthews owner Ranjit Singh Boparan said the poultry workers – sourced from countries such as Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Romania and Bulgaria – will provide a much-needed  uplift as production is ramped up by 400% across his turkey plants in the run up to Christmas.

The entrepreneur said he intends to write to the government and to local MPs whose constituencies include the plants to extend his thanks for the success of a temporary visa scheme brought in by prime minister Boris Johnson when it became clear extra people were needed over the Christmas period. His government announced in September that 5,500 poultry workers from the EU would be able to work in the UK on temporary visas ahead of the festive break.

Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of Boparan Private Office and 2 Sisters

Ranjit Singh Boparan, owner of Boparan Private Office and 2 Sisters - Credit: 2 Sisters Food Group

Mr Boparan owns turkey empire Bernard Matthews which has factories in Great Witchingham and in Holton near Halesworth which employ 1,800 workers across both sites. He also owns 2 Sisters poultry factories in Flixton, near Bungay, and at Thetford employing 438 and 844 workers respectively.

Earlier this year, the poultry sector was fearful that a huge exit of workers following Brexit and the pandemic would leave big holes in its festive workforces.

Mr Boparan said: “With just a few weeks to go until Christmas, it is very good news to be able to report that here we are in mid-November, and we’re well on the way to plugging the job gaps for the massive volume increases we get during this time of year.

“Our teams have been working incredibly hard to process almost 900 applications for the seasonal worker scheme and we’ll be seeing the first arrivals at our factories in the coming days. This means we should be able to fulfil all our projected orders for turkeys and there will be enough turkeys to go around. Everyone should be able to source their Christmas turkey this year, which is great news."

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Mr Boparan had criticised the government over the issue previously, but said he needed to say thank you when it delivered.

"The bottom line is that this has helped us save Christmas, not only for us, but all producers in this sector, and of course for the consumer.

“I am hopeful similar arrangements could be made for next year, and with an earlier visa process start date, this could make it even more successful. Labour as a key structural challenge for our sector is here for 12 months of the year, and it’s one that’s not going to go away.

“We simply don’t want to see our industry shrinking when the demand is as big as ever, especially at Christmas. It would be silly to plug any gaps by using imports, for instance. We don’t think the British consumer wants to see that, so hopefully the same temporary arrangements can also be made for 2022.”