Romanian farm workers flown in to train East Anglia’s new ‘Land Army’
- Credit: IAN BURT
Skilled Romanian farm workers are being flown into the UK to help train a new “Land Army” to save East Anglia’s salad and vegetable harvest during the coronavirus lockdown.
A plane carrying up to 180 people from the Eastern European country is due to land at Stansted Airport today, chartered by major grower G’s Fresh, based near Ely.
After a period of quarantine, they will be deployed to pick crops such as lettuces, spring onions and celery across the region, including on farms in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
The Fenland-based firm is one of the UK’s biggest fresh food producers and says the charter is “part of our people strategy to ensure we have enough seasonal agricultural workers to continue to feed our nation”.
Following the coronavirus lockdown, farming leaders warned that crops could be left to rot in the field as travel restrictions prevented vital seasonal workers travelling from Eastern Europe. It sparked a nationwide recruitment drive urging UK-based workers – who may have temporarily lost their jobs in retail, hospitality or leisure sectors – to join a new “Land Army” and prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste.
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G’s, which needs more than 2,500 seasonal workers at the peak of its season in late May, said its own “Feed Our Nation” campaign has already generated 2,000 calls, with 500 people recruited so far – but experienced operators were needed to train them how to operate the picking rigs in the fields.
Beverly Dixon, HR director for G’s Group, said: “This strategy is important to ensure the operational efficiency of the UK harvest, through returning seasonal agricultural workers allowing the teams to have a percentage of experienced workers, who will help train and keep our new workforce safe.
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“Over the past three weeks, G’s have successfully managed to recruit almost 500 UK-based seasonal workers to help bring in our UK salads crops starting in the final week of April.
“We’re really pleased with how the recruitment campaign is going, but it is important that we have got these people from Romania. These are key skilled workers who were with us last year. We need experienced people who can make sure everyone is safe and knows what to do.”
READ MORE: Could wartime-style ‘Pick For Britain’ campaign solve seasonal farmworker shortage?Ms Dixon said G’s has been working closely with Public Health England to ensure safe transport arrangements and all Romanian workers “are being brought into the UK under strict protocols”. The group will be screened on arrival before being “quarantined within small working teams in our hostel accommodation”.
Surrey-based flight operator Air Charter Service said the flight was the first of up to six “potentially in the pipeline” between mid-April and the end of June.