Scottish fruit growers are calling on thousands of furloughed workers to take the chance to top up their wages by signing up for farm work this summer.
The farmers’ union says the potential labour force has been boosted by HMRC’s decision to allow furloughed workers to take up temporary well paid employment in polytunnels and on vegetable farms, and has appealed to them to join the national effort to ensure soft fruit and vegetables reach supermarket shelves.
At least 10,000 workers need to be recruited to do seasonal horticultural work which will reach its peak in June and July, and while NFU Scotland (NFUS) has already seen unprecedented numbers of visits to its web page where jobs are advertised, it says thousands more are needed to avoid crops going to waste.
Carnoustie fruit grower James Porter said well paid jobs in harvesting, packing and distribution are all available and it is essential they are filled if the fruit currently ripening in tunnels is going to make it onto supermarket shelves.
“The initial feedback from the NFUS employment-matching service, launched three weeks ago, is hugely encouraging and I am delighted that it has already proven successful in matching individuals who had found themselves out of work due to the public health crisis with essential employment in our countryside,” he said.
“With the clarification from HMRC this week that workers furloughed from their usual employment will be able to take up other work on a temporary basis, I hope we might encourage them to view our initiative as an excellent way for furloughed individuals to top up their wages also.”
However Mr Porter warned that no matter successful the recruitment initiative is, it remains extremely unlikely that it will be able to recruit the volume of workers that are needed in Scotland during the height of the seasons for fruit and vegetable picking.
The work is usually done by temporary seasonal workers from Eastern Europe, but the global nature of the Covid pandemic means it will be difficult to recruit labour from overseas.
Job opportunities can be found at www.nfus.org.uk/coronavirus/employment-opportunities-on-farms.aspx