Thursday, 29 Jul 2021

Coronavirus: Romanian fruit-pickers flown in to UK for lockdown harvest

Farmers have defended the transportation of workers from Romania to the UK amid the unemployment crisis caused by COVID-19.

Earlier on Thursday, 150 Romanian field labourers arrived in Essex to pick crops on British farms.

The plane, chartered by the farming group G’s Fresh, landed at Stansted Airport from where the workers were transported to various farms.

Farmers have voiced fears that without the workforce, crops may be left in the ground to rot and be wasted as the nation moves to feed itself during the coronavirus pandemic.

They also argue that harvesting crops is skilled work and many Eastern European workers return to the same farms each year.

Stephanie Hildon, who runs Langmead Herbs in Chichester on almost 3,000 hectares of land, told Sky News her Romanian workforce is loyal and committed.

“If I was going to be recruiting from the UK and taking on people that are unfortunately out of work that would require a huge amount of retraining to get these people up to speed,” she said.

“It’s highly likely that our efficiency levels would drop. If our efficiency levels drop we’re already in a rather low margin category, that means the price of food goes up.

“We always advertise in the UK, we haven’t been able to recruit in the UK, which is why we’ve gone abroad.”

There has been some anger at the fact that Romanians are being flown in at a time when so many British workers find themselves unemployed.

It has been revealed that 1.4 million people have recently claimed Universal Credit and many millions more have been temporarily suspended from work on reduced pay.

The Titan Airways plane via the Air Charter Service is one of a number of flights being organised over the coming weeks.

Air Charter alone is arranging at least five flights and has already flown another 1,700 workers from Eastern Europe to Germany.

Seasonal workers arriving at this time of year is not unusual.

Up to 80,000 workers help farmers harvest their crops across the UK, the vast majority from Eastern Europe.

Only 10-15% of those workers are based in the UK and the rest fly in for the season.

Many farmers have tried hard over the years to recruit British workers but following a period of high employment have found it hard.

The Feed the Nation campaign is working to find farming jobs for the unemployed. So far it has had more than 33,000 applications of which 90% are British.

But it has only successfully placed 125 people in jobs so far.

The hope from many, including the National Farmers Union, is that interest in the type of work might sustain beyond the crisis.

Its vice president Tom Bradshaw said it was a “real opportunity”.

He added: “Now we’re faced with the prospect of needing more recruits and we’ve got this pool of UK workers who are unfortunately available because of everything that’s going on so we’re desperately trying to empower the nation to go out and pick for Britain and put fresh fruit and vegetables on people’s plates over the coming months.”

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