Laid-off workers urged to help harvest crops

Coronavirus has stopped foreign seasonal workers from entering Switzerland. © Keystone / Gaetan Bally

Swiss farmers are asking people who have been temporarily laid off work in their normal jobs to help bring in the spring harvest. The usual supply of seasonal workers from abroad has dried up because of coronavirus lockdowns and border restrictions.

This content was published on April 3, 2020 - 11:10
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Without replacement workers, seasonal crops such as asparagus could go to waste, farmers are warning.

Their plea has been echoed by Economics Minister Guy Parmelin. “I call on anyone looking for work to go to the fields to help farmers. Spring vegetables must be harvested and it is difficult to get seasonal workers from abroad entry [into Switzerland],” he told Schweizer Illustrierte magazine.

Thomas Wyssa, a spokesman for vegetable farmers in northwestern Switzerland, told Swiss public broadcaster, SRF, that hotel or catering staff who have been told to stay at home during the pandemic by their employers could come to work in the fields.

“This is a precarious situation that will be difficult to solve in such a short space of available time,” he said.

‘People want to help’

Temporary workers from countries including Portugal, Spain, Poland and Romania are usually relied upon to plant the next batch of crops for harvesting later in the year.

Mathias Grünig from the Bernese Farmers Association said laid-off Swiss workers were starting to respond to appeals for help from the agricultural industry. “This has never happened before and it shows that people want to help,” he told SRF.

However, he warned that the work could often be strenuous and open to the elements while wages were not high.

Parmelin said that there were other ways Swiss people could help farmers. “I appeal to consumers to drink Swiss wine and eat Swiss products.”

The Swiss farmers association has created a website with information about open positions in the agriculture sector during the coronavirus pandemic.

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