During World War Two people were encouraged to ‘Dig for Victory’. This encouraged Britons to be self-sufficient – to turn over their flower beds, lawns and back yards to the growing of fruit and vegetables. In 2020 in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are being urged by the Government to ‘Feed the Nation’. The initiative refers yet again to the provision of fruit and vegetables, but this time UK residents are needed to help in the harvesting and packing of fresh produce on farms and its distribution to grocery retailers.
Foreign workers unable to travel
Why this urgent call to action? Put simply, the majority of these seasonal roles are normally fulfilled by foreign workers, who travel from Eastern Europe each year. Several have longstanding relationships with farmers and return year after year. However, travel restrictions because of coronavirus have dictated that they are unable to come here at the moment.
Of the 90,000 seasonal jobs available on farms, 70,000 are usually undertaken by migrant workers. As you might imagine, this leaves a huge shortfall. If the crops aren’t picked in time, they will rot and be unsaleable. Obviously this has a knock-on effect in terms of supply. Fewer crops harvested translates to a shortage on the supermarket shelves, not to mention the economic effects on the farmers.
It has been reported that around 450 Romanian nationals will be flying in from Bucharest this week, under strict travel controls. They will undertake social distancing on the flights and will be provided with masks and hand sanitisers. This will help to ease the situation a little in East Anglia where they have been allocated jobs to harvest and pack spring onions, peas and beans. Nevertheless, there are still hundreds of jobs to be filled, including pickers, packers, farm machinery operatives and delivery drivers.
Ethically sound farms
There are sometimes reports in the media of poor working conditions and excessive working hours in picking and packing operations. At Verner Wheelock we carry out SMETA ethical audits for a number of growers in the UK to ensure that decent working conditions, living conditions, pay, equality, and working hours are upheld. Recruitment for the ‘Feed the Nation’ initiative is via members of the Alliance of Ethical Labour Providers, so applicants can rest assured that the farms where they would be working meet the required standards.
In addition to receiving at least minimum wage and in many cases the National Living Wage (NLW), workers will receive free travel, health and dental care for the duration of their contract. They will also receive training for their role. This will include safe working practices in line with Government guidelines on social distancing, the wearing of appropriate PPE and should include food safety training.
Furloughed workers can now apply for farm jobs
The Government has recently announced that workers who are currently furloughed from their regular jobs because their employers have had to close due to coronavirus safeguarding, are eligible to apply to ‘Feed the Nation’ as long as their contracts allow it. Students are being encouraged to apply too. Anyone working on a farm will be classed as a key worker. This means they can travel to and from their place of work and their children can attend school.
For more information of how to apply and help the British farming industry in this time of crisis, please visit any of the following sites:
Hops Labour Solution
British Summer Fruits
Asscciation of Labour Providers