UK Environment Secretary Eustice blasted after suggesting furloughed workers get 2nd job picking fruit
Environment Secretary George Eustice has come under sharp criticism after suggesting that workers furloughed due to the Covid-19 pandemic could get a second job in agriculture picking fruit and vegetables.
Speaking at a daily briefing on Sunday, Eustice gave some insight into how the coming shortage in the workforce can be managed. At the moment, he said, Britain’s agriculture is doing fine, yet “we do anticipate” the sector to experience troubles in June at the height of the harvesting season.
“We estimate that probably only about a third of the migrant labor that would normally come to the UK is here, and was probably here before lockdown,” Eustice said.
“We are working with industry to identify an approach which would encourage millions of furloughed workers, in some cases, to consider taking a second job helping to get the harvest in June.”
The potential lack of workforce in agriculture has become a hot topic in the UK, and the launch of a ‘Pick for Britain’ campaign has been rumored for some time already.
Eustice’s career advice, however, came under fire from all sides.
Many say the minister’s proposal defeats the whole purpose of the furlough scheme, since the government is paying for employers to pay their workers who are staying home. While furloughed staff can technically take a second job, they are allowed to do so only outside of the hours they would normally work. So, for those who work from 9 to 5, there isn’t much free time left to pick fruit!
I thought that furloughed workers were not allowed to work? Will this be one a voluntary basis?!— fishcabbage (@grandepantalon) April 26, 2020
My employer bans furloughed employees from taking other work 🤔 but they aren’t topping up the 80% 🤷♀️— Hookawoolly (@Hookawoolly) April 26, 2020
Some said that fruit picking is tough work, and herding random white collar workers into it won’t do the industry any good.
The assumption here is that fruit picking is something that anyone can dip in and out of. It isn't. It's very tough physical work, and employers need people who can commit to sticking around for the season, to make training viable, not just for a week here or there. https://t.co/rfhgqNhLzl— Chris Grey (@chrisgreybrexit) April 26, 2020
Others pointed to a potential conflict of interests regarding Eustice’s family business – fruit farms – accusing the minister of seeking cheap labor.
George Eustice rubs his hands at daily Covid briefing on prospect of getting cheap labour for his families fruit farms. Stop cramming farmworkers into unfit living conditions, pay The Real living wage & allow unionised workforce.Problem solved. https://t.co/XmybWifi1j— Wendy Minney (@MinneyWendy) April 26, 2020
It might interest you to know that member of the landed gentry and far-right Tory MP, George Eustice, also happens to own his own fruit farm & farm shop & here he is asking citizens to pick fruit for slave wages. Now isn’t that a funny coincidence? https://t.co/a0K0hf5uVl— Miffy Buckley 🏳️🌈 (@miffythegamer) April 26, 2020
Many said that if the working conditions and wages in agriculture were decent, the sector would not have to rely on foreigners in the first place.
I call on George Eustice to lead by example & go pick some fruit & veg himself for slavery wages himself, then maybe he’ll realise what backbreaking work many people are forced to do for pittance for their own survival! 😡💔🇬🇧 https://t.co/a3jVCa53g9— 𝐒𝐲 𝐇𝐚𝐰𝐤𝐞𝐬 | #SocialistHeart❤️🌹 #UBINow✊🏼 (@syhawkes) April 26, 2020
The pro-EU crowd blamed Brexit for all the turmoil in the agriculture sector and lack of workforce, while taking little notice of the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Good luck with that one. The Brexit British are far too entitled to pick mere fruit || George Eustice calls on furloughed workers to pick fruit and veg https://t.co/rtM5wjBgbb— Charles Darwent (@darwent_charles) April 26, 2020
https://t.co/uXyALPWo5o#GeorgeEustice and @10DowningStreet@BorisJohnson can go f*ck themselves and get the brexidiots to finally make a positive contribution to the country. You chase the workers away with your bigotry and idiocy, you pick the fruit.— Diary of a frustrated academic 💻 🇳🇱 🇪🇺 🇬🇧 (@dutchscientist) April 26, 2020
“Instead of looking at those workers and pitting them against each other – Romanian hard-workers vs British lazy f***ers – the government could think about the power relations behind the exploitative practices,” Dr Lisa McKenzie, a sociology professor, wrote in a recent piece for RT.
“Such as extremely competitive supermarkets forever pushing the amounts they are prepared to pay for fresh fruit and food, forcing farmers to work towards ever-tightening margins and to seek to squeeze down on their costs. And so who ends up suffering? As always, the people at the bottom of the pile.”Also on rt.com We working classes are happy to pick fruit alongside imported Romanians, but neither they, nor we, should be exploited so badly
The UK is among the nations hardest hit by the coronavirus, with more than 154,000 confirmed cases and nearly 21,000 dead, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.
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