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British workers called on to help harvest food due to shortage of fruit pickers

Fruit and vegetable pickers as Environment Secretary George Eustice calls on furloughed workers to 'pick for Britain'
Britons are being asked to help plug the gap as fewer eastern European workers are here for this year’s harvest (Picture: Getty Images)

Furloughed and unemployed people are being urged to ‘pick for Britain’ as the coronavirus crisis creates a shortage of migrant workers to harvest crops.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said only a third of worker who would usually come for the season from countries like Romania and Bulgaria are already here. Only small numbers are likely to arrive as travel remains reduced during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at today’s Downing Street press conference, Eustice announced the launch of a new Pick for Britain website, aiming to ‘marry up job opportunities from growers and employers with those seeking a second job, particularly those that are furloughed’. Many will be eager to sign up to earn some extra money and to help plug the nation’s labour shortage. But people have been unable to do so as the site was down moments after it was unveiled.

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Eustice added: ‘We believe that those who are furloughed may be getting to the point that they want to lend a hand and play their part. They may be wanting to get out and they may be wanting to supplement their income with an additional job. And if they do feel that way I would urge them to visit that website and to look at the opportunities that are there.’

Today’s announcement comes after MPs were warned quarantine restrictions for overseas visitors would lead to a shortage of workers to harvest fields and pick fruit. The Government is drawing up plans to require travellers arriving in the UK to isolate for 14 days as part of an effort to limit the number of new Covid-19 cases.

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But the food industry fears that the measure could have a severe impact if it is in place when around 60,000 foreign workers are due to arrive to help harvest crops. Chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation Ian Wright said: ‘I think there is a big concern about access to labour in the UK for what are called seasonal workers.

In this May 5, 2020, photo, Ali Capper inspects the blossom on her apple trees at Stocks Farm in Suckley, Worcestershire. Britain???s fruit and vegetable farmers have long worried that the exit from the European Union would keep out the tens of thousands of Eastern European workers who come every year to pick the country???s produce. Now, the coronavirus pandemic has brought that feared future to the present. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Only a third of fruit and veg pickers who would usually come for the season are currently in the UK (Picture: AP)

‘The quarantine regulations that are being talked about at the moment are a big concern as well there. It’s difficult to see how you are going to get around that for those who are coming in – normally about 60,000 workers come in for the harvest. It’s going to be difficult to see how they are going to arrive if they are due to arrive during the quarantine period.’

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Mr Wright was giving evidence to MPs on the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee as part of an inquiry into the impact of Covid-19. He said the impact of the crisis could also be seen in other countries which supply UK consumers.

He added: ‘This isn’t even half time yet. We are in the early stages of this and we have managed to get through the first stage and the battering of the first stage, but we have a lot of other challenges to face and access to labour – both in this country for picking and harvesting – and in other countries is going to be a big issue.’

Committee chairman Neil Parish said: ‘Hopefully we can get more homegrown labour but if we can’t then this quarantine of 14 days period could be very difficult for getting workers in.’

Mr Wright also explained how the food distribution network in the UK was ‘completely banjaxed’ by the change in consumer behaviour in the early stages of the health crisis.

19/05/2020. London, United Kingdom. Environment Secretary George Eustice holds the Daily Covid-19 Press Conference with Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Dame Angela McLean, in the State Dining Room, 10 Downing Street. Picture by Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street.
Environment Secretary George Eustice unveiled the Pick for Britain website, which users have said is down (Picture: 10 Downing Street)
Group from local community standing in polytunnel in their allotment, smiling as they pick organic produce from the vines
MPs have been warned that quarantine restrictions could contribute to a labour shortage (Picture: Getty Images)

Around 30% of food was previously consumed outside the home – in pubs, restaurants and takeaways – but this dramatically declined even before the lockdown was confirmed.

Mr Wright said: ‘The fantastic just-in-time processes, which got shelves absolutely stocked pretty much every time, rely on using immediate previous behaviour as a predictor of the next behaviour, which is fine unless the next behaviour is completely different – which it was.

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‘So the algorithms were completely banjaxed and as a consequence of that shelves were empty and the distribution system – that got stuff from manufacturers to the distribution centres and to the shops – began to be incapable of dealing with the demand.

‘We are trying to project new eating habits out of a supply system which is entirely designed to serve old eating habits.’

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Source: Metro News UK

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