furloughed employees asked to help save the harvest

Furloughed Employees Urged to Help ‘Save the Harvest’

The government’s Environment Secretary George Eustice has urged millions of furloughed employees to help pick fruit and vegetables during June’s harvest season. 

The agricultural sector is highly reliant on migrant labour during the summer months, with thousands of non-EEA nationals temporarily relocating to the UK on a Tier 5 Temporary Worker/Seasonal Worker Visa. 

Holders of this visa can move to the UK for up to six months to participate in farm work, providing they meet all necessary requirements and have a job offer from a sponsored employer. 

But with COVID-19 lockdown measures and border closures making international travel virtually impossible, the farming industry has been left without a considerable portion of its seasonal workforce.

George Eustice urged furloughed employees to help out in the fields.
The comments were made by Environment Secretary George Eustice. [Image: Farmers Weekly]

According to research from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the impact of Coronavirus could leave the UK short of around 80,000 agricultural workers this year. 

Travel restrictions, ill-health and the need to self-isolate have all created a situation where UK farming does not have the supply of labour needed to function effectively. 

According to research from the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), the impact of Coronavirus could leave the UK short of around 80,000 agricultural workers this year.

And with the British harvest season for fresh produce fast approaching, there is a pressing need to source workers via alternative means. 

Speaking at a COVID-19 daily briefing, the Environment Secretary stated that plans were being put in place to fill labour shortages and ensure that the June harvest is collected as usual. 

The scheme is thought to involve large numbers of people- including those who have been furloughed under the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme- being requested to help pick produce in the month of June. 

In the words of Mr Eustice:

“We’re acutely aware that we’re about to start the British season in fresh produce, in soft fruits and salads,”

“We estimate that probably only about a third of the migrant labour that would normally come to the UK is here, and was probably here before lockdown.

‘We are working with industry to identify an approach which would encourage millions of furloughed workers, in some cases, to consider taking a second job helping to get the harvest in in June.

“It’s not an issue at the moment – since the harvest has barely begun – but we do anticipate that there will be a need to help recruit staff for those sectors in the month of June.”

The COVID-19 pandemic is likely to leave the agricultural sector short of around 80,000 seasonal employees. [Image: Euractiv/Shutterstock]

‘Furloughing’ refers to the process whereby staff who are unable to work due to Coronavirus are paid up to 80 per cent of their wages by the government. Furloughed employees are permitted to take a second job provided that they are given permission by their main employer and are able to return to their primary job at any time. 

With this in mind, there is nothing to prevent them filling the shortfall of seasonal staff and ensuring that the farming industry functions effectively

As the impact of Coronavirus has grown progressively in scale, the need to access agricultural workers has become increasingly more acute. The Environment Secretary’s comments only a few weeks after UK farmers launched the ‘Feed the Nation’ campaign, which urged the British public- in particular furloughed employees- to help out in the fields.

Mid April saw the news that some British farmers had organised charter flights to bring workers to the UK from Romania- a testament to how severe the situation has become. 

But on a more positive note, Mr Eustice stated that the ‘international food chain’ is still managing to function in spite of widespread lockdown measures.

Further to this, supermarket staffing levels are beginning to rise, as self-isolating employees return to work. 

Mid April saw the news that some British farmers had organised charter flights to bring workers to the UK from Romania- a testament to how severe the situation has become.

As of last Friday, less than 10 percent of food industry staff were absent. Three weeks ago, this figure stood at 20 percent. 

Written by
Cameron Boyle
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