Employing migrant workers


Case Study : Bernard Matthews Foods Ltd

Bernard Matthews Foods Ltd - this will open in a new window

Bernard Matthews Foods Ltd


Food Producers

Company history and profile

Bernard Matthews Foods Ltd. began in 1950 with 12 turkey eggs and an incubator in the heart of Norfolk, UK. Although the company's headquarters are still based here, its business activities stretch across Europe, and New Zealand.

The company produces 13 million turkeys worldwide and production is concentrated in East Anglia. It now employs over 6,800 people, 4,100 of these are in the UK.

Values and Approach to employment policy

Bernard Matthews has been addressing its labour shortages for some time by actively pursuing a programme of diversity. The company has never operated a positive discrimination policy; the key features looked for in employees are commitment and basic ability to perform the job.

Maintaining high quality standards requires several days' initial training. If turnover is high (in the early 1980s it was around 54%) it is expensive and wasteful and the Company's expansion throughout the last few decades has meant that labour scarcity has continued to be an issue.

Currently the workforce includes around 1,200 non-UK staff, drawn from over 33 countries; it is committed to encouraging non-UK employees into management positions.

Business reason for employing migrant workers

Business development in the 1980s ensured year round consumption of turkey products leading to increased production facilities. Labour requirements were significantly elevated as, to ensure quality, meat had to be manually removed by skilled operatives in order to be further processed. Norfolk generally lacks areas of population concentration and unemployment in the area is low. When the business was formed 50 years ago, labour availability was not a pressing issue, but it has been since this expansion.

Lord Haskins, Prime Ministerial Adviser on Rural Recovery, said on the BBC's Farming Today programme in December 2003 that, in his view, "the biggest problem facing British Farming is labour shortage".

Bernard Matthews' successful theme of diverse labour has meant it has been able to expand its East Anglian facilities and achieve this in a manner that has reduced labour turnover and improved product quality - both profitable to the company and to Bernard Matthews' employees. The Company now employs around 1,000 Portuguese in its production workforce of 3,500 (28.5%).

Models and Process

Bernard Matthews' diversity programme has evolved over the lifetime of the business. By extending and introducing a range of new systems and working relations, Bernard Matthews increased the number of Portuguese in its 3000 production workforce from 100 in 2001 to 900 in 2003, i.e. from 3% to 30%. This has been a particularly innovative step as the majority of its Portuguese employees are non-English speaking and/or have been recruited in Portugal.

To welcome and successfully integrate Portuguese colleagues into the workforce and the local community, Bernard Matthews needed to review all its systems and develop partnerships with a range of organisations. In particular:

  • The company has its own recruitment office in Lisbon
  • It has extended diversity training for line managers
  • It has extended and developed relationships with the local Job Centre to enable them to recruit resident unemployed non-English speaking Portuguese
Partnerships within the Great Yarmouth Community (where the majority of their Portuguese workers are housed) include:
  • Police - initiatives to promote community cohesion
  • Home Office - an ethnic integration project [Policing priority area scheme]
  • Local schools - where it has financed a Portuguese speaking learning assistant
The systems it now has in place led the DTI to describe Bernard Matthews as "a best practice employer"

Employee support

As part of its commitment to welcome and support Portuguese colleagues, following consultation, the Company has introduced a range of support systems including:
  • It arranges accommodation for new arrivals
  • It has systems in place with HSBC bank to enable bank accounts to be opened immediately
  • It has developed a welcome pack written in Portuguese
  • It undertakes occupational health screening of all incoming employees
  • It employs a team of bilingual trainers / interpreters and provides regular accessible language training
  • It has dual language documentation
  • It employs 71 translators
  • It employs a dedicated bilingual Accommodation manager


Bernard Matthews' main learning point has been that to integrate large numbers of Portuguese into its workforce. It learnt that the training process begins before people leave their homeland.

It needed not only to provide effective workplace practices, but also to put systems in place to aid the transition of employees into local society and ensure this is as easy as possible.

The programme is now such an integral part of Bernard Matthews' operation that it is embedded in its culture and the knowledge it has gained is now being applied both internally and externally.

Contact details

Steven Grant
Email: steve.grant@Bernardmatthews.com


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