• Farmers charter flights to bring fruit-pickers to UK as travel shutdown causes shortage of foreign workers

    Farmers charter flights to bring fruit-pickers to UK as travel shutdown causes shortage of foreign workers

    Nearly 200 Romanian agricultural workers flown from Bucharest to London Stansted in first of series of flights to plug gap in workforce

    With scheduled aviation almost completely shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, UK farmers are chartering planes to bring in workers to pick fruit and vegetables.

    Nearly 200 Romanian agricultural workers will fly from Bucharest to London Stansted on Thursday aboard the first of a series of charter flights.

    The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) claims travel restrictions and illness could leave a shortage of up to 80,000 agricultural workers. While some of those posts will be filled by British workers, the CLA said it is “almost impossible for farmers to access the labour they need”.

    Scheduled flights between Romania and the UK have been suspended since 5 April, and terrestrial journeys are impossible because of closed frontiers across Europe.

    So with crops ripening and a shortage of seasonal labour, a group of farmers approached the London firm Air Charter Service (ACS) to lay on special flights.

    Matt Purton, the firm’s commercial director, said: “There’s still a need for people from eastern Europe to come to do that work.

    ”It’s impossible to get here by normal means.”

    Passengers booked on the first flight from Romania will undergo health checks before departure. Anyone who displays symptoms of Covid-19 will not be allowed on board.

    To limit the spread of coronavirus onboard planes, the aviation industry is studying the concept of “de-densification” – leaving the middle seat empty in each row.

    On a Boeing 737-800 such as the one being used for the first charter, that would reduce the maximum capacity from 189 to 126.

    But The Independent understands that the Boeing 737 being used for the first flight has every seat booked. The cost per person is around £200 for the one-way flight.
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    On arrival at the Essex airport, the workers will be bussed to farms in the east of England.

    Further missions from Romania and Bulgaria are planned by ACS.

    The company has also organised missions from the two Balkan countries to a range of German airports.

    Meanwhile, the Scottish airline Loganair is operating charters to and from Poland and Latvia on behalf of the oil industry based northeast Scotland.

    The airline is using an Embraer regional jet to connect Aberdeen, Gdansk and Riga.

    Loganair chief executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “There are still a lot of essential oil workers who need to move.”

    The carrier is also operating “lifeline” flights to Scotland’s islands, as well as Royal Mail services and a new passenger link between Heathrow and the Isle of Man on behalf of British Airways.

    “With half the fleet flying, we’re probably flying more of our aircraft than any other UK airline,” said Mr Hinkles.

    https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-farmers-charter-flights-fruit-pickers-foreign-workers-rom

    #UK #Angleterre #charter #travailleurs_étrangers #agriculture #Roumanie #migrations #travail #coronavirus #covid-19 #récolte

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    • Eastern Europeans to be flown in to pick fruit and veg

      Eastern European farm workers are being flown to the UK on charter flights to pick fruit and vegetable crops.

      Air Charter Service has told the BBC that the first flight will land on Thursday in Stansted carrying 150 Romanian farm workers.

      The firm told the BBC that the plane is the first of up to six set to operate between mid-April and the end of June.

      Government department Defra said it was encouraging people across the UK “to help bring the harvest in”.

      British farmers recently warned that crops could be left to rot in the field because of a shortage of seasonal workers from Eastern Europe. Travel restrictions due to the coronavirus lockdown have meant most workers have stayed at home.

      Several UK growers have launched a recruitment drive, calling for local workers to join the harvest to prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and vegetables going to waste. However, concerns remain that they won’t be able to fulfil the demand on farms.

      One of the UK’s biggest fresh food producers, G’s Fresh, based in Cambridgeshire, confirmed it chartered two out of the six flights carrying Eastern European farm workers from Romania.

      Derek Wilkinson, managing director of G’s Fresh’s Sandfield Farms division, told the BBC that the 150 workers arriving at Stansted from eastern Romania on Thursday will be taken by bus to farms in East Anglia to pick lettuce.

      The firm said the group will be screened on arrival in the UK, will be socially distanced, and anyone found to have a temperature will be quarantined.

      Mr Wilkinson said his business needed 3,000 seasonal workers, with the greatest need in May at the start of the spring onion harvest, followed by the pea and bean crop in June.

      He added that the company had had a good response to a recruitment campaign aimed at local workers. So far, 500 British people have registered their interest.

      The Air Charter Service, a private firm, has already arranged flights for seasonal workers in other countries. It flew 1,000 farm workers to Germany from Bulgaria and Romania in recent weeks.

      The workers will board in Iasi, eastern Romania, after having their temperatures taken and filling out a health questionnaire. The BBC understands that they will be taken from the airport by minibuses to farms in the South East and the Midlands.
      Seasonal worker shortage

      The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said up to 70,000 fruit and vegetable pickers were needed. It is calling for a modern-day “land army” of UK workers.

      NFU vice president Tom Bradshaw told the BBC: “Growers that rely on seasonal workers to grow, pick and pack our fresh fruit, veg and flowers are extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions may have on their ability to recruit this critical workforce this season.”

      “In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who is interested in helping pick for Britain this summer to contact one of the approved agricultural recruiters.”

      A national campaign is appealing to students and those who have lost their jobs in bars, cafes and shops to help with the harvest.

      Several schemes have been set up to recruit new workers. They include one by the charity Concordia, which typically helps young people arrange experiences abroad, and another by the industry bodies British Summer Fruit and British Apples and Pears.

      Data released to the BBC last week by job search engines suggested that those recruitment efforts might be paying off.

      Totaljobs said it had seen 50,000 searches for farming jobs in one week alone. It added that searches for terms such as “fruit picker” or “farm worker” had surged by 338% and 107% respectively.

      Indeed.co.uk said that there had been a huge spike in interest for fruit picker jobs in particular. Between 18 March and 1 April, there was an increase of more than 6,000% in searches for these roles on its website.

      Meanwhile, Monster said the number of UK users searching for “farm” or “farm worker” jobs had nearly tripled.

      https://www.bbc.com/news/business-52293061

    • The only frequent flyers left: migrant workers in the EU in times of Covid-19

      In a bizarre twist of fate, migrant workers from eastern Europe have remained the only mobile segment of Europe’s population.

      As many European countries have closed their borders and imposed stringent quarantine measures, there is a group of people that continues crossing borders, exposing themselves to risk, often because they hardly have another choice – migrant workers from eastern Europe.

      “Immediate departure - England”, “The Netherlands – Picking up Asparagus”, “Soft Fruits – Scotland”, “Germany Bochum, factory”. These are the titles of some of the 60 job ads published in April, amidst the Corona lockdown, on a Bulgarian jobs website for working abroad. As Romanian workers gather at crowded terminals waiting for their charter flights to Germany, the persistent inequalities within the EU are exposed more clearly than ever. We are all in this together, but some are more in than others.
      “De-facto quarantine with simultaneous work opportunity”

      Governments and businesses in western Europe have pushed for travel exemptions for eastern Europeans, in order to tackle the dire shortages of seasonal labour for planting and harvesting crops at this time of the year. On March 30, the European Commission released new “practical advice” to ensure that cross-border and frontier workers within the EU, in particular those with critical professions, can reach their workplace. The definition of “critical professions” is extremely flexible: “This includes but is not limited to [emphasis added] those working in the health care and food sectors, and other essential services like childcare, elderly care, and critical staff for utilities”.

      Germany is making plans to fly in tens of thousands of eastern Europeans for harvesting – keeping the system of seasonal work alive despite the crisis. It is illustrative that, in Frankfurt, incoming Romanians were welcomed with chocolate Easter bunnies by the German agricultural minister – not an accolade they normally receive. In Austria, care-workers were flown in from Bulgaria, Croatia, and Romania, and more are supposed to follow – even though the Romanian government recently prevented another flight. Whereas two years ago the then right-wing Austrian government introduced measures that reduced the family allowance of many of these eastern European workers, now there are even bonus payments for those care-workers who stay longer. Two Austrian regions have also flown in agricultural workers from Romania.

      The economic logic is clear. While for western standards, eastern Europeans provide cheap labour, the wages these workers receive in the West are still much higher than what they would get for the same work at home. In addition, long hours of gruelling and low-paid work under the spring and summer sun is not something many westerners are keen on doing. It is telling that, despite soaring unemployment rates at home, western and southern European governments, from Spain to Sweden, are nonetheless alarmed over the shortages of farm workers. This has included calling on local citizens to help in the fields. But it should come as no surprise if these calls fall short of expectations, in light of the dire working and living conditions of farm work, on top of the current health hazard.
      No choice

      For many eastern Europeans, though, this is their only way to make ends meet. Lack of proper health care insurance, social protection, and adequate working conditions for eastern European workers have already been a serious problem in the past. But these problems have been exacerbated even further by the pandemic. According to a recent ad for warehouse work in the UK, workers are expected to work 12-hours day and night shifts and receive between 8.35 and 12 GBP per hour depending on achieving set targets. The costs for travel are paid by the workers themselves, in addition to up to 85 GBP per week for accommodation. Workers are also expected to pay two weeks of rent in advance upon arrival and a tax for the housing agency.

      In the meantime in Germany, eastern European agricultural workers are expected to undergo a “de-facto quarantine with simultaneous work opportunity”. That is, they should stay in quarantine while working and sharing accommodation with half-as-many people as usual. Taking into account that accommodations sometimes house up to a dozen workers, this is hardly a strict protection measure. On April 11, a 57-year old Romanian agricultural worker was found dead in German Baden-Württemberg. He had gotten infected with Covid-19 while harvesting asparagus, one of German’s favourite veggies.

      In an open letter from of March 31, the Bulgarian trade union Podkrepa demanded that the Bulgarian government either stops workers from leaving the country – by providing them with minimal basic income during the crisis – or pressurises receiving countries into protecting the economic rights and health of workers, and not sending them back to Bulgaria before the crisis ends. So far, neither of these routes has been taken.
      Open borders without proper social protection serve the interest of employers

      The number of infections in many eastern European countries is still low, in part due to the quick introduction of restrictive measures of “social distancing”. Still, any potential increase could be fatal, given the austerity-stricken decrepit state of the health systems of many of these countries. The municipal hospital of the small town Bulgarian town of Provadia, for example, has no ventilators and counts on an 84-years old pulmonologist and a 60-years old anaesthesiologist, – in a country where many young medical graduates have emigrated to the West and are now helping to tackle the pandemic elsewhere.

      Yet, this should not be interpreted in simplistic moral frames pitting the exploitative West versus the innocent East. Instead of increasing the wages of workers in Bulgaria, Bulgarian employers lobbied actively in the past to “import” cheap labour from third countries such as Moldova and Ukraine. Many of the Bulgarian job ads for work abroad in fact advertise jobs in Czechia, another Central and Eastern European country.

      There has been an important debate on workers’ rights taking place also within southern European countries that have long relied on the inflow of seasonal cheap labour from eastern Europe but also from north and sub-Saharan Africa. The Italian Agriculture Minister recently sparked debate when suggesting that undocumented immigrants from third countries should be given work permits to fill those gaps. This would at the same time provide greater protection to a highly vulnerable sector of the population and avoid shortages of fresh food and the rise in prices. Unsurprisingly, her proposal has been met with fierce resistance by the far right.

      What all this comes to show is that the underlying problem is a systemic one concerning the way employers exploit wage differences across borders. Open borders without proper social protection serve first and foremost the interest of employers. The labour force of sending countries becomes nothing but a labour reserve for receiving countries, contributing to social dumping abroad and labour shortage at home.

      In practical terms, now is the moment to push for unionization of migrant workers and legal measures to guarantee their rights, not only now, when it is urgent to have them, but also in the future. In addition, more cooperation between eastern European trade unions and trade unions in western countries such as Germany and the UK is direly needed.

      Now, it is more important than ever to focus on the consequences of emigration, especially seasonal and short-term labour, both on the individual health and wellbeing of workers and on the economy and public health in the sending countries. Behind the asparagus and strawberries that we eat this spring, while self-isolating, there are the lives of those who cannot afford to stay home, including those who have to take charter flights to work in “semi-quarantine” conditions in foreign countries, at their own risk.

      https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/can-europe-make-it/only-frequent-flyers-left-migrant-workers-eu-times-covid-19