Farmers and recruiters have turned to charter flights to bring in fruit and vegetable pickers from Romania to keep up with demand during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite efforts by growers to attract British workers to help harvest crops via large-scale recruitment campaigns, concerns remain over shortfalls in labour.
With 98 per cent of seasonal labour coming from outside the UK, G’s Fresh, a national salad producer, confirmed it has chartered two flights carrying Eastern European farm workers to fill the farm work gap.
Beverley Dickson, HR director at G’s Fresh said the ‘Feed Our Nation’ campaign had been ‘extremely successful’ and had managed to recruit almost 500 UK based seasonal workers but added: “The first charter plane will bring in about 180 returnees, who we offered contracts to at the end of last season.
“They have got established food hygiene and handling skills, as well as health and safety, and therefore these people will be crucial in both supplementing and training this new UK workforce.”
Britain normally recruits about 80,000 migrant seasonal workers to harvest fruit and vegetables, but the crisis has placed travel restrictions on many scheduled air, train and bus services.
A spokesperson for Concordia, a recruitment agency part of the Alliance for Ethical Labour Providers, said it had looked at chartered flights but was focused on local recruitment after more than 33,000 UK-based workers had applied for jobs.
The spokesperson said: “Around 16 per cent of applicants are completing the recruitment process and of those who are successful, 14 per cent are accepting the roles offered.
“We are working hard to support growers through this challenging period and are enthused to see so many people from the UK interested in working on farms.”
Ms Dickson added the firm was working closely with Public Health England on safe transport arrangements and said the group would be fully screened on arrival in to the UK.
She said: “But the fact remains that despite the success of our recruitment campaign, this is a huge operation and we need the experience of skilled migrant labourers to complete the harvest.”
CLA president Mark Bridgeman echoed this and said bringing in workers from overseas, where safe and possible, was the ’right thing to do’.
He said: "We strongly encourage people from across the country to keep coming forward and signing up with recruitment agencies but if we want to keep supermarkets stocked, migrant labour will be needed to ensure fruit and vegetables are picked on time this summer."