Furloughed workers have been urged to become fruit pickers as the UK faces a labour shortage due to the coronavirus.
The work is usually done by migrant workers from Eastern Europe. The environment secretary, George Eustace, said at yesterday’s government Daily Briefing (26 April) that only a third of the usual workforce is available this year due to travel restrictions imposed because of the pandemic.
“We are working with industry to identify an approach that will encourage those millions of furloughed workers in some cases to consider taking a second job, helping get the harvest in in June," he said.
"It's not an issue at the moment since the harvest has barely begun, but we do anticipate that there will be a need to recruit staff for those sectors in the month of June."
To address the shortage, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) last week launched the new ‘Pick for Britain’ portal to help recruit some of the 80,000 workers required to pick and pack fruit in the UK each year.
The government also flew in workers from Romania earlier this month for the roles.
Thousands of UK-based workers have applied for picking jobs but then decided against interviewing for the roles, according to The Alliance of Ethical Labour Providers.
The alliance is made up of recruitment agencies HOPS Labour Solutions, Concordia and Fruitful and is quoted in The Guardian as saying it had received 36,000 applications of interest - but only 6,000 applicants had opted for an interview.
However, several applicants told BBC Radio 4’s ‘Farming Today’ programme on Thursday last week they had applied to relevant agencies but had not received any response.
Nick Jarman, who is self-employed but has had to put contracts on hold due to the virus, said “nobody bothered to get back to me” despite being “fit and healthy, “motivated” and not daunted by the hard work.
Genevieve Black also told the programme she had applied for picking roles and had hoped to travel and self-accommodate in her campervan. However, after replying to several job ads, all the agencies replied saying the vacancies had been taken.