Furloughed workers will be encouraged to take on a second job as fruit pickers during the summer harvest due to a lack of migrant workers, a Cabinet minister says.
Speaking at Downing Street’s briefing on Sunday afternoon, Mr Eustice said: Although the international food chain is continuing to “work well”, the Environment Secretary said he expects there to be a need to recruit staff in the UK to harvest crops at the start of summer.
“We’re also acutely aware that we’re about to start the British season in fresh produce, in soft fruits and salads,” Mr Eustice told the briefing.
“We estimate that probably only about a third of the migrant labour that would normally come to the UK is here, and was probably here before lockdown.
“We are working with industry to identify an approach that will encourage those millions of furloughed workers in some cases to consider taking a second job, helping get the harvest in in June.”
He added: “It’s not an issue at the moment since the harvest has barely begun, but we do anticipate that there will be a need to recruit staff for those sectors in the month of June.”
Mr Eustice also said staffing levels had increased in supermarkets during the past three weeks.
“The food supply chain has also seen a significant reduction in staff absence over recent weeks, as staff who had been self-isolating through suspected coronavirus have returned to work,” the Environment Secretary told the briefing.
“Absence levels are down from a peak of typically 20% in food businesses three weeks ago, to less than 10% at the end of last week, and, in some cases, individual companies reporting absences as low as 6%.”
He said the Government had been working with local authorities to ensure people who are not clinically vulnerable but in need of help can get the food that they need.
“We recognise that there are others that are not clinically vulnerable and therefore not in that shielded group, but who may also be in need of help,” Mr Eustice said.
“Perhaps through having a disability, or another type of medical condition, or indeed being unable to draw on family and neighbours to help them.
“So we have been working with local authorities to ensure that those people can be allocated a volunteer shopper to help them get their food needs.”
He said charities can now make direct referrals on the Good Samaritan app to locate volunteers for those in need.
Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, Mr Eustice said that 669,850 Covid-19 tests had been carried out in the UK – including 29,058 tests carried out on Saturday.
He told a Downing Street briefing that some 152,840 people have tested positive – an increase of 4,463 cases since the day before.
“15,953 people are currently in hospital with the coronavirus in the UK, down from 16,411 on April 25,” he said.
“And sadly, of those hospitalised with the virus, 20,732 have now died, and that is an increase of 413 fatalities since yesterday.
“We express our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these victims.”