A lack of seasonal workers in the UK could lead to serious shortages in crops being harvested during the summer months, experts warn, because of the government's forced action to limit travel during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to a recent report in The Telegraph and several other news sources, suppliers, growers and recruiters say Britain could be short some 90,000 labourers because of the disruption caused by COVID-19.
There has been a groundswell of support within the UK to give those workers who have been displaced from their jobs as well as students the chance to pitch in for their country, in much the same way as the Dig for Victory and Land Army initiatives did during World War II, by picking produce for Britain.
British Summer Fruits, in fact, has made this pitch to potential interested workers on its website:
"As a result of the business impact of COVID-19, we know many people are looking for work and we have numerous seasonal vacancies available on our farms up and down the country. From fruit pickers and packers, to plant husbandry and forklift drivers, there are a wide range of roles available."
George Eustice, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, echoed this call to action, saying, "I have been speaking with industry about the critically important issue of seasonal workers, who usually come from Europe to pick fruit and vegetables. We need to mobilise the British workforce to fill that gap and make sure our excellent fruit and vegetables are on people’s plates over the summer months."
Normally, Britain would be accepting scores of seasonal workers from the EU and countries such as Russia, the Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria. But restrictions, both here in the UK, and in those nations, have made the exchange unfeasible. So it will be up to the British goverment and companies to solve the issue.
"For the time being it is going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to bring anybody in, so we have to incentivise and empower a bespoke national campaign to motivate this ambition," Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers Union, told The Telegraph. "The Government is absolutely committed to doing this, but it has to be industry-wide with all of us pushing it. It's essential that this is kicked off now."
According to The Telegraph, 98% of fruit pickers last year came from outside the UK.