Only a few weeks ago, in the absence of the vast army of seasonal workers from overseas that farmers and growers have come to rely on, the Pick for Britain campaign was launched with the objective of recruiting some 70,000 UK workers to harvest fruit and vegetables over the spring, summer and autumn. The campaign so far has had some measure of success but, at the time of writing, it is estimated that between 25,000 and 35,000 vacancies still remain.
DEFRA has said that the majority of roles for the early part of the harvest season have been filled. However, many employers are concerned that achieving the number of recruits required in the medium to longer term will be a struggle for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it’s not easy! Applicants have to be reasonably fit and could be working outdoors in all kinds of weather, whilst other jobs are weather-dependent, so working hours can vary greatly. Many workers who start out with the best intentions soon discover it’s not for them after all. What growers need are ‘pickers who are stickers’ – people who can stay the course and really commit themselves to the challenge. The campaign has recruited the Prince of Wales to champion the cause in a video in which he appeals for British workers to come forward. You can see the video here.
Secondly, as lockdown restrictions are eased by the government, many people working on farms will be able to return to their usual employment.
And last but not least, the newly introduced 2-week quarantine rules for people coming into the UK are creating uncertainty. Seasonal agricultural workers are actually exempt – as long as they can self-isolate where they are working. And, while some eastern European workers are still expected to come to the UK, there are many others who are either confused about the rules or nervous about entering a country where Covid 19 cases remain stubbornly high.
With the demand for seasonal workers set to increase over the coming weeks and months, let’s hope that the government delivers the support – and ultimately the workers – that farmers and growers are undoubtedly going to need.