Defra secretary George Eustice has called on furloughed workers to help pick fruit and vegetables on UK farms as the country faces a shortage of migrant workers.
Despite a number of Romanian seasonal workers being flown in to pick crops on farms, the UK continues to face a labour shortage, and Eustice has now suggested that those who have been furloughed from their regular jobs could get a job on British farms.
Speaking at the Government’s daily coronavirus conference, Eustice said: “We estimate that probably only about a third of the migrant labour that would normally come to the UK is here and was probably here before lockdown.
“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 June.
“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.”
Eustice also said that supermarkets are making an extra 300,00 delivery slots available but said it would not be enough to cope with the demand of lockdown.
He said: “The food supply chain has also seen a significant reduction in staff absence over recent weeks, as staff who had been self-isolating through suspected coronavirus have returned to work.
“Absence levels are down from a peak of typically 20 per cent in food businesses three weeks ago, to less than 10 per cent at the end of last week, and, in some cases, individual companies reporting absences as low as 6 per cent.
“We recognise that there are others that are not clinically vulnerable and therefore not in that shielded group, but who may also be in need of help.
“Perhaps through having a disability, or another type of medical condition, or indeed being unable to draw on family and neighbours to help them.
“So we have been working with local authorities to ensure that those people can be allocated a volunteer shopper to help them get their food needs.”
Photograph: Defra secretary George Eustice