30%-40% of seasonal agriculture jobs are now being filled by domestic workers, but some sources have reported a drop in productivity
EU countries are easing lockdowns faster and becoming increasingly desirable for workers
Competition from other European nations could affect the UK’s ability to source seasonal workers from Ukraine and eastern Europe over the coming months, industry sources have warned.
Brits have been drafted in to work on farms since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, with the government and industry mounting the Pick For Britain campaign calling on UK workers to seek roles.
Some 30%-40% of seasonal agriculture jobs were now being filled by domestic workers, said one senior food source.
However, The Grocer understands productivity has fallen by as much as 30% for at least one major UK grower over recent weeks, with fears this could drop further if furloughed workers drafted in during lockdown returned to their regular jobs.
Meanwhile EU countries are easing lockdowns faster and becoming increasingly desirable for workers.
“The Germans are benefiting not only due to the early un-lockdown, but are also proving a draw through tax incentives,” the source said.
“If it is easier to get to somewhere like Germany and they feel they can travel immediately then they will do that,” said NFU horticulture and potatoes board chair Ali Capper.
A lack of clarity about quarantine rules for people entering the UK over past weeks may also have put some workers off, she added.
“We now know that seasonal workers are exempt and as long as they can self-isolate on a farm they can start work in a cohort. But if you just saw the headlines a week ago, you might have decided not to come to the UK.”
Perceptions of the UK’s handling of the coronavirus crisis would play a part, she said. “Workers will draw comparisons about their perception of how it is being handled and at the moment there is a contrast between, for example, Germany and the UK.”
She stressed she was confident the UK could attract workers in the long term. “The UK has always had an excellent reputation for seasonal workers in terms of good rates of pay, accommodation standards and worker welfare.
“If we can allay prospective workers’ fears over quarantine then we should have a degree of optimism.”