NFU’s horticulture and potatoes board chairwoman Alison Capper has warned thousands of pickers are needed to fill ‘peak’ jobs for the harvest season fast approaching.
Despite Government backed recruitment campaigns, such as Pick for Britain, low uptake has highlighted the pressure the horticultural sector faces after coronavirus prevented travel for many of the 70,000 to 80,000 overseas seasonal workers who normally pick crops.
Recruiters have now been encouraged to target UK workers laid off or furloughed in the pandemic to bridge this farm work gap but Ms Capper said: “We are now having to re-recruit workers for peak jobs, which start in June right the way through to October.
“But there are a lot of anxieties surrounding this recruitment because we do not know how long people will be furloughed or when students will go back to their studies.”
According to the Alliance of Ethical Labour Providers, Concordia and HOPS, out of 50,000 applications, only 112 people have taken up roles on farm.
A Concordia spokesperson said: “The main barriers to people accepting roles have been that the candidate is unable to accept the length of contract, that the farm is too far away from their home, that they do not want to travel [or] commute, care responsibilities that prevent full-time work or that they only want to do part-time work.”
Speaking in a BBC 5 live interview Ms Capper echoed this, adding: “Businesses are furloughing workers on a three week cycle, which makes it hard from an employer’s perspective as the soft fruit season requires individuals to work from June through to September.”
But mfg Solicitors employment law expert Chris Amys has encouraged workers on furloughed leave to apply for horticultural work, adding: “The Government allows you to work for other organisations without any impact on the monies you receive under the Job Retention Scheme.
“It is of real mutual benefit to everyone – the farmers who need the staff to harvest the crop, the workers who need the money and the whole country that will want to keep food on the table at this difficult time.”
Responding, Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said the majority of roles for the early part of the harvest season had been filled but claimed the Government was ’closely’ monitoring the situation.
She said: "We will shortly be launching a public-facing campaign to highlight the roles available from late May onwards and to encourage people to apply."
Ms Capper is now calling for British people who are ‘enthusiastic and motivated’ to use all relevant recruitment portals to sign up for picking roles across the country.
She said: “We are still looking for students, the unemployed and furloughed workers to help out with this operation.”