In the EU, there are an estimated 9.7 million workers in the agricultural sector. However, since the COVID-19 outbreak, travel restrictions have led to a shortage of workers in the sector in many countries.
Because the industry relies heavily on migrant workers, especially in picking foods and packing and processing, there are concerns there won’t be enough workers – especially in the run-up to harvest season.
The European Commission has said that seasonal workers are exempt from temporary travel restrictions. But, concerns for the safety of these workers has been growing.
In a joint statement, concerns have been raised about the working and living conditions of these workers. It also calls for urgent measures and reforms to be put in place to deal with the impact of the pandemic on the farming industry.
The statement notes, “In the fields and in many food processing plants, labourers toil in close proximity, with no protective equipment. The EU and the member states should do whatever it takes, including mobilising additional funding, to ensure decent accommodation, access to water, rapid testing and the provision of protective equipment for workers in European fields and processing plants.”
It also goes on to point out that these conditions put workers at a higher risk of contracting the virus. It recommends national governments take steps to protect vulnerable workers – especially those who are undocumented.
The Food Drink Europe and the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) have responded by creating guidelines to minimise the risks and ensure safety requirements are adequate for workers during the pandemic.
It recommends that companies in the food industry should take further safety precautions to protect workers, especially in factories and in harvesting procedures. This can be difficult to set up, but is vital in terms of maintaining social distancing.
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