// Grocery supply chain condemn a “worse than useless” intervention by the government over confusing self-isolation rules
// More than 10,000 critical workers in the food sector to be given an exemption to self-isolation rules amid major staff shortages
// Bosses said there was still significant confusion over whether they would be contacted over exemptions
Grocery and food bosses have condemned a “worse than useless” intervention by the government over self-isolation rules and said confusion remains over supply chains.
It comes after a government minister said more than 10,000 critical workers in the food sector would be given an exemption to self-isolation rules amid major staff shortages.
Around 500 firms in the food and grocery supply chain have been contacted directly by the government to use a scheme, Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News on Friday.
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Food bosses said there was still significant confusion over whether they would be contacted over exemptions, which workers would be eligible and whether they should apply directly.
British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Richard Harrow told the PA news agency that there was uncertainty among firms over whether daily workplace testing would be involved to allow people to continue working if they are “pinged”.
He also said there were concerns that more workers may be freed up in some areas of the supply chain but not others, such as in supermarkets.
“The government announcement last night that parts of the supply chain will be allowed to test and release workers that are pinged by Track and Trace only goes part of the way,” he said.
“It shows that yet again government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is.
“Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?
“Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.”
Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, which represents companies that move frozen and chilled foods, told The Observer: “Several days after the Prime Minister told us the food supply chain was critical and would be exempt, we still don’t have a definitive list of who will be exempt and what is required of them.
“Businesses are fighting to keep food on shelves, and I regret that despite the best intentions in some places, government has done more harm than good.
“We are living day-by-day. Those businesses that can work are doing their absolute best. But no one feels confident predicting what will happen tomorrow and few have confidence that those in charge have a grip on the situation.”
Meanwhile, a dairy company executive told the PA news agency that there were concerns that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plans to target 10,000 critical workers will not go far enough.
“We have thousands of workers. The idea of picking a handful of ‘critical workers’ at each huge supplier feels like nonsense,” they said.
“We cannot pick a few workers who can keep products going to supermarkets if shortages keep arising – that isn’t how it works.
“It is also important to stress that there were shortages across the sector before people were pinged and it is important they act to resolve that too.”
Supermarket bosses have also criticised the government’s decision to limit the exemption to suppliers and not many shop floor workers.
Last week Iceland managing director Richard Walker said: “We’re encouraged to hear that supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt from government rules, but deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list.”
with PA Wires