Coronavirus: Furloughed workers to be urged to take fruit picking jobs to bring in harvest

Environment secretary George Eustice during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavir

Environment secretary George Eustice during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. Pic: Andrew Parsons/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Some of the workers furloughed because of the coronavirus pandemic could be encouraged to take a second job to help farmers in Norfolk and Suffolk reap the summer harvest.

At the daily COIVD-19 Downing Street briefing, environment secretary George Eustice said he expected there would be a need to recruit staff to help pick fruit and vegetable - with labour from migrant workers stemmed.

Travel restrictions imposed as a result of the outbreak have prevented many of the usual seasonal workforce of pickers and packers arriving from Eastern Europe.

Mr Eustice said that the international food chain was continuing to “work well”, but that lockdown meant only about a third of the migrant labour workforce which would usually do the harvesting are in the UK.

MORE: Prospects for 2020 harvest ‘grim’

He told the briefing: “We’re also acutely aware that we’re about to start the British season in fresh produce, in soft fruits and salads.

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“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 that will encourage those millions of furloughed workers in some cases to consider taking a second job, helping get the harvest in, in June.”

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He added: “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 recruit staff for those sectors in the month of June.”

The lockdown has already sparked industry calls for a new “Land Army” to step forward and fill the gaps, including hospitality, retail and tourism workers who may be temporarily out of work.

A Pick For Britain website has already been launched. Last week, Rachel Carrington, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “Growers who rely on seasonal workers to grow, pick and pack our food have been extremely concerned about how to recruit this critical workforce. As the peak summer harvest approaches, we have been working closely with Defra to find solutions.

“We’ve already seen a fantastic response from the public, including lots of people who have contacted the NFU’s regional office and individual businesses in Norfolk to ask about farm work. That support is incredibly valued.”

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