Farmers are facing a battle to find and recruit staff to save this year’s harvest, amid concerns of a national shortfall of around 80,000 workers.
The coronavirus pandemic has meant a drop in the number of staff employed as fruit and vegetable pickers, as the majority of workers from outside the country are unable to get flights and existing staff have to self-isolate for many months.
Now employment and farming specialists from a Midlands law firm say farmers need to step up their recruitment by looking to recruit staff currently furloughed from their normal jobs if they are to save the harvest and keep Britain fed.
Agricultural specialist Alexandra Phillips and employment law expert Chris Amys from mfg Solicitors said the most essential thing for farmers at this time was to keep a healthy workforce.
Ms Phillips, an associate in mfg’s Agriculture and Rural Affairs division, said: “It is being widely reported and it is completely true that there is a real danger that this year’s crops will be left in the fields to rot.
“That concern has also been underlined by the Country Land and Business Association, who estimate a shortage of up to 80,000 workers needed to both pick and pack produce from fields.
“Farmers should look to quickly train students and workers from other sectors who either have lost their jobs or been placed on furlough – that will allow them to fill the gaps left in the workforce due to the coronavirus pandemic.”
Employment lawyer Mr Amys said there were various steps farmers could take to protect their temporary workers and themselves.
He added: “Farmers have the same duty of care as everyone else to comply with social distancing and give their workers the space to operate at least two metres apart.
“However, workers should not be put off applying for farm work if they are on furlough leave as the government allows you to work for other organisations without any impact on the monies you receive under the Job Retention Scheme.
“There may be some conditions attached to furlough leave so anyone looking to employ someone should ensure they’re complying with any contractual obligations first.
“However, this 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.”