Furloughed workers urged to 'Pick for Britain' to make up labour shortfall

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Furloughed workers are being encouraged to 'Pick for Britain' to ensure crops can still be harvested during the pandemic.

Travel restrictions had led to warnings that producers would face labour shortages as many pickers come from overseas.

The team at Wey Street Farm in Faversham have been picking strawberries since last month.

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Among the workers is David Wilks who would normally be teaching English in schools in Austria but because of the pandemic found himself out of a job.

It's been very good for me and my wife financially because we had no money coming in whatsoever. So to be able to find work locally has been great."

David Wilks, Worker
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Normally the workforce at the farm would be predominantly Eastern European but because of travel restrictions, workers have been recruited from within the UK to make up the labour shortfall. But there is some uncertainty.

We are all obviously very wary. If our English staff are furloughed, we lost two yesterday who went back to the building sites, so of course there's no guarantee. We have a couple of teachers here, they might be back on June the 1st we've been told. So yes we're very wary."

DAVID FIGGIS, Wey Street Farm, Faversham, Kent

temporary workers are needed to pick fruit and vegetable crops in the UK


of fruit pickers here in 2019 were from outside the UK (the majority from Bulgaria and Romania)

The Government says: "The demand for seasonal workers is currently being met, but we know our farmers and growers will need more workers in the coming weeks and months. This is why we are working hard to ensure they have the support they need ahead of this time."

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This year's uncertainty, because of the pandemic, was unexpected, but farmers and growers are aware that next year more uncertainty could come following the UK's exit from the European Union.

But the Immigration Minister believes it is an opportunity.

The current situation shows how vulnerable we've become if we are reliant on a flow of seasonal workers from abroad. That wasn't the case in decades past but now we can see even when there was a migration opportunity, people haven't come to the UK because of travel restrictions. So we do need to look at how we can make those industries more attractive to those who are based in the UK as they once were."

KEVIN FOSTER, Immigration Minister
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One economics expert believes more UK workers will move into farming out of necessity.

Agriculture is always the best thing to do when you don't have a job. To go back to the land and be a farmer. Maybe it's the easiest thing. Not easy in terms of the job, but it's the best choice when you are faced with unemployment."

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