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150 Romanian farmworkers fly in to Stansted Airport to help pick region's fruit and vegetable crops

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Romanian farmworkers are arriving at Stansted Airport on Thursday (April 16) to pick fruit and vegetables during the coronavirus crisis – amid fears that some crops could be left to rot in the fields because of a shortage of home-grown labour.

A private Air Charter Service flight was expected to bring 150 people from the eastern European to help with harvesting. Five more planes are expected to touch down in the next couple of months, carrying labour for sites across the East of England.

According to the NFU (National Farmers' Union), the UK horticulture and potatoes sector employs around 70,000 seasonal workers a year, the majority of whom travel into the UK and go home each year. They represent 99% of the workforce required for these seasonal roles.

Stansted Airport. General road signage around the airport site. Picture: Vikki Lince (33594989)
Stansted Airport. General road signage around the airport site. Picture: Vikki Lince (33594989)

Global lockdowns and travel restrictions because of the coronavirus pandemic mean access to workers is limited, despite efforts to recruit home-grown labour.

The NFU says: “UK businesses and labour providers have developed campaigns to employ significant numbers from within the UK. Not only is this necessary to ensure any shortages are filled but is important to support UK workers who may find themselves out of work following the closure or shutdown of their industry.

"The response from the general public has been very high, though many are looking for very short-term commitments – perhaps a few hours, or a couple of half-days a week – which can be more difficult for businesses to manage.”

Grounded aircraft at Stansted Airport (33595021)
Grounded aircraft at Stansted Airport (33595021)

Government department Defra (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) is encouraging people across the UK "to help bring the harvest in" amid fears that some crops could be left to rot in the fields.

Sarah Lee, of the Countryside Alliance, said that the rural lobby group backed calls by Environment Secretary George Eustice for a 'Land Army' to help feed the nation during the Covid-19 crisis.

"We are living in very uncertain times, but as a country we will beat Covid-19. To do this, we will need all hands on deck from those who are able," she said.

"Our farmers and producers need a strong UK workforce to help bring home the harvest. It is crucial that growers can provide enough British produce for our supermarkets and local shops.

"Please, if you are able, join the 10,000 others who have signed up already. For more information, please visit the websites of one of the following: Hops, Concordia or Fruitful Living."

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