The Government says it is stepping up its campaign to find British workers to pick fruit and vegetables during the coronavirus lockdown, amid fears that food could go off in the fields.
Environment, food and rural affairs minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble suggested farms currently have sufficient seasonal labour. But he said the campaign to plug the gap left by having fewer foreign pickers would be ‘escalated’ from next month, which begins tomorrow.
In a virtual Lords question time session, Lord Gardiner said he was confident people would come forward to pick ‘excellent’ British produce.
Ministers have launched a ‘Pick For Britain’ campaign to mobilise British workers to help farmers and meet consumer demand. Independent crossbencher Baroness Boycott said the publicity level currently was ‘very low’ and not many people knew about it.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville urged the Government to promote employment opportunities to assist growers to harvest their products.
Lord Gardiner said the campaign would be ‘escalated’, adding: ‘We think the current situation on the farms is that there is sufficient labour.’ He said demand would start to peak in late May and that a ‘public facing campaign’ would be launched ‘so many more people are aware of it’.
Labour’s Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said the Government seemed to be relying on an ‘army of furloughed staff coming forward’, but noted that the furlough scheme is currently only available until the end of June. She asked: ‘What will happen when those staff go back to their original jobs?
‘How can we be confident that we are going to have enough pickers both now and in the long-term.’
Lord Gardiner responded: ‘We’re clear we want more people to come forward, particularly in their local areas. We think students will have an important role to play.’
Workers who continue to be furloughed would be in a position to make a ‘major contribution to this harvest’, he added. The minister said a lot of interest had been expressed and he was confident people would come forward to help.