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When there is a lot of work in the fields, but few workers | Instant News

(MENAFN – Swissinfo) Swiss farmers must improvise to find enough workers during the coronavirus pandemic to help harvest, and – as the example illustrates – are looking for creative solutions to get their products to market.

Asparagus shoots are still covered in land on the farmland of Jucker in Rafz, a small town northwest of the city of Zurich. Vegetable shoots are waiting for migrant workers to harvest them, but this year many of the foreign workers may not come.

“Many of them are still in their countries, waiting for the borders to reopen,” said Nadine Gloor, head of marketing for agriculture, which employs 150 people, both for planting and harvesting asparagus and pumpkin, on new farmland. produce shop, or in two restaurants on the spot.

Swiss agriculture relies on foreign workers, who mostly come from eastern Europe and Portugal. According to statistics from the Federal Office for Migration, the agriculture and forestry sector employed more than 18,000 seasonal workers from abroad last year.

Usually, this spring, 80 people from Poland and Romania are already in the fields picking asparagus and strawberries on Jucker’s farm.

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However, the coronavirus crisis made very close borders in Europe, including between Switzerland and its neighbors, making it impossible to travel from eastern or southern Europe to mountainous countries. Even if they can leave home, many foreigners such as migrant workers from Portugal will be faced with having to isolate themselves after they return. The rule has been in force in Portugal since March 20.

However, Jucker’s operations have been fortunate since then, said Gloor, some workers were already in Switzerland when the borders were closed, and many Swiss citizens responded to job advertisements placed on external link websites, or websites specifically created by Swiss fruit and vegetable producers. agricultural workers, working with online recruitment agencies, Coopleexternal link. Usually active in matching job seekers who are looking for flexible working hours or temporary jobs in the fields of cooking, aviation or event management, or other sectors of the economy that are mostly closed, Coople now appoints people in search of work towards agriculture.

According to official data, the locking up of the health crisis has caused a surge in unemployment and so-called short-term employment. A quarter of all Swiss workers have been affected.

However, agricultural work is not attractive because it is manual work and requires long working hours (55 per week) for low wages (CHF14.50 per hour). “It needs to be done in the sun and rain, in all weather,” said Gloor. “Field workers must also have the skills to know how to plant asparagus without destroying it, so we cannot take everyone who registers.”

The agricultural sector hopes the federal government will help make work more attractive.

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‘We hope the federal government takes the steps necessary to subsidize agricultural wages according to market conditions in this extraordinary situation. This will allow 315,000 people currently affected by short jobs to benefit, ‘said Viktor Calabrò, president of Coople, in a trade magazine on March 25.

Specific health measures, including social exclusion and regular hand washing, are also applied in Swiss agriculture as in other industries where employees still have to work on site.

“If locking continues for longer, farmers must find a different approach to managing the harvest,” said Loïc Bardet, head of Agora, a French-speaking farmer association in Switzerland. Bardet made comments ahead of the Swiss government’s decision on April 8 to extend the lockdown at least until April 26.

But federal authorities do not see a risk to the country’s food supply. “I don’t believe there will be a shortage of seasonal agricultural workers. It’s still too early to say how the situation will develop, ‘replied Florie Marion, a spokesman for the Federal Office for Agriculture, pointing out that the government has launched several measures to help the economy, including the agricultural sector. Among them, temporary work visas can now be granted for six months, up from the previous three.

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