Coronavirus: in Western Europe, the puzzle of the agricultural sector to recruit seasonal workers

Indian seasonal workers pick vegetables from an Italian farm, April 22, 2019. REUTERS / Guglielmo Mangiapane

Text by: Pauline Gleize Follow

The risk of shortage of agricultural labor worries in Western Europe. The question arose almost from the start of confinement, but the answer became more and more pressing as fruits and vegetables ripened. 


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With health measures and the difficulties of traveling in Italy, 250 to 270,000 foreign seasonal workers are running out of the 350,000 who work each year in the fields of the Boot. According to the newspaper Il Fatto daily , 40% of the crops could rot on the spot if no solution is found.

The government has extended the validity of residence permits and plans to regularize undocumented migrants. The agricultural organization CIA is in favor of this, but fears that it will take too long to materialize. Danilo De Lellis therefore wishes to broaden the work coupons allowing flexibility in certain recruitments. We would like the work coupons," explains the CIA employment officer, " so the return of subsidiary work. If not, a flexible tool must be found which makes it possible to accelerate recruitments including, why not, among the beneficiaries of citizenship income or partial unemployment.  "

But several unions oppose work coupons. This penalizes workers from the point of view of their social protection," emphasizes Onofrio Rota, the secretary general of the Agrifood Federation of the ICFTU. But we are in favor of employing people receiving aid.  "

" Green corridors  "

However, Italian agricultural organizations have launched online recruitment platforms. France also bet on specific recruitment sites via Pôle Emploi and the FNSEA, the main agricultural organization in France.

Another avenue considered is the creation of "green corridors" to bring in foreign workers. Rome turned to Romania, the main supplier of foreign seasonal labor in the Italian fields.

Germany, which receives 300,000 foreign seasonal agricultural workers each year - many Poles and Romanians, according to the country's main agricultural union -  authorized these workers to come in early April to collect asparagus and others.

The United Kingdom, which has just materialized its Brexit, is also using the workforce of Eastern Europe. A large food producer has also brought in qualified Romanian agricultural workers by charter flights before placing them in quarantine at the hotel. An initiative little appreciated by the Romanian ambassador in London, who nevertheless admits that he cannot do much about it. 

But in Italy, Danilo De Lellis is doubtful. They should be in active quarantine," he explains, " so for the first 14 days in companies, they couldn't be in contact with other workers, they should have separate changing rooms. Here, not all companies are structured to handle this.  "

Housing and transportation

Without an alternative, social distancing may also lead companies that offered accommodation or a means of transport to reduce this supply or to assume higher costs. Danilo De Lellis therefore hopes that public or private transport agreements can be concluded and why not with hotels at the dawn of an uncertain tourist season.

On the other side of the Mediterranean, Spain, which supplies 90% of the European strawberry market at this time of the year, has not been outdone in terms of hiring foreign seasonal workers. According to Minister of Agriculture Luis Planas in early April, the sector needed 75,000 to 80,000 additional agricultural workers. So the government facilitated by decree the recruitment of the unemployed who can keep their allowance and the recruitment of foreign labor "  legally resident in Spain  ". The decree also provides that immigrants aged 18 to 21 can obtain a work permit.

However, these provisions, valid until June 30, have restrictions. During the confinement period, recruitments can only be made in the commune of the agricultural holding or in the neighboring communes.

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  • Coronavirus
  • Italy
  • United Kingdom
  • Agriculture and Fisheries
  • Spain
  • France
  • Immigration
  • Employment and Work

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