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Britain looks to replace seasonal workers kept away by the virus.


Britons are in fields across the country doing something they probably would not have imagined a few months ago: working as farm laborers, picking berries.

Fruit picking in Britain is traditionally done by seasonal workers from Eastern Europe. Because of travel restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus, many of those workers haven’t made the trip.

Facing a labor shortage, the government started a “Pick for Britain” campaign in April to attract British workers.

The job isn’t glamorous, and the work is hard. A workday starts at 7 a.m., and the income can vary person by person.

“People say you can make a lot of money,” Zak Oyrzynski, a new laborer, said, “but it’s down to the picker.” At Hall Hunter, the company that runs the farm, the average weekly pay in 2019 was £414 (almost $520), according to the company’s website.

“A couple of young people dropped out because the pay was not what they expected,” Mr. Oyrzynski said.

Farmers say they have been pleasantly surprised by the amount of interest in these jobs. They were afraid Britons would stay away from jobs usually performed by overseas workers.

But desk work this is not. Four-fifths of the people who initially expressed interest drop out before moving to the next stage, such as an interview, according to HOPS Labour Solutions, a recruiter for farm work.

“It is a massive, massive challenge,” said Tom Martin, whose family owns a farm in the county of Cambridgeshire. “I hear about people who take on 10 people and at the end of the week they only have three left.”

Productivity needs to be high, and time spent training is less time doing productive work.

“A new worker is 10 to 30 percent more expensive,” said Ali Capper, chairwoman of the Horticulture and Potatoes Board for the National Farmers Union of England and Wales. “It takes about three to four weeks to get into a rhythm.” — Claire Moses and Geneva Abdul



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