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Farm-Labor Crisis under COVID-19 Sends Countries Scrambling

Farm-Labor Crisis under COVID-19 Sends Countries Scrambling

Miserable, crowded living conditions of Europe’s foreign farm workers put them at much greater risk. And they’re staying away.

In one of the many paradoxes of the new world we live in, Western European countries that have seen millions of jobs wiped out in a matter of weeks are now facing an acute shortage of agricultural laborers.

Farmers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the UK and other parts of Western Europe have come to rely on huge numbers of cheap labor from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Sub-Saharan Africa. Now, those workers are either no longer able to make it to the farms or are choosing to stay with their families in their home countries.

This is leading to an “alarming” shortage of farmhands, warns the EU in an as yet unpublished report. The report blames the shortage on two main factors:

  • The restrictions on the movement of workers between EU countries to combat the spread of Covid-19;
  • And the miserable, crowded living conditions in which many imported farm workers live, which put them at much greater risk of contracting the virus.

In Spain a record 900,000 workers dropped off Spain’s social security register of employees in the last two and a half weeks of March, yet farm associations are complaining that they’re short of over 100,000 workers to help pick the fruit, vegetables and tobacco that are now ready for harvest.

“Vineyards are paralyzed because there’s no one to install the conduction system; there are no day laborers to prune the olive trees or remove the weeds in the onion farms; there are not even enough hands to tie the garlic bundles”, says agricultural engineer Arturo Serrano. “All of these crops have work cycles that are governed by nature and cannot be postponed.”

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