French farmers should be able to find part of their seasonal foreign labor. The government’s announcement Thursday (May 7) to open borders to seasonal workers from the European Union, even outside of Schengen, is a relief for the profession. A total of around 276,000 seasonal workers are needed for the May and June harvests, according to the National Federation of Farmers’ Unions (FNSEA).
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“Many farmers have relied on foreign labor for thirty-forty years, explains André Bernard, vice-president of chambers of agriculture. In Paca, 28% are North Africans, mainly from Tunisia and Morocco, 27% are Europeans, mainly Spanish. “
15,000 contracts signed for 290,000 applicants
The coronavirus crisis and the closing of borders in Europe had prevented foreign seasonal workers from coming to France, threatening the harvest of strawberries, cherries, apricots, peaches and grapes. In collaboration with the Ministries of Agriculture and Labor, Pôle Emploi and the National Association for Employment and Training of Farmers (Anefa), the FNSEA notably launched the “Arms for your plate” platform last March .
The goal: to connect farmers and “volunteers” to make up for the shortage of labor. If 290,000 people answered the call according to the platform, 15,000 contracts were finally signed on the 45,000 needed in March, announced Christiane Lambert, president of the main agricultural union on Franceinfo.
“You can’t improvise as a farmer”
“Only 30% of those who came stayed,” says André Bernard, vice-president of chambers of agriculture. A figure he explains by the lack of experience of the local workforce, coupled with a lack of training at the start of their new contract. “Seasonal workers from abroad come from agricultural backgrounds”, he continues.
Same observation for Dominique Chargé, president of the Agricultural Cooperation, which brings together some 2,600 agricultural cooperatives. “The“ arms for your plate ”approach was very interesting and we must honor the French volunteer workers. But you can’t improvise as a farmer, it’s a painful job. It is important for us to find this specialized and experienced workforce that we usually use. She is available and ready. ”
Strict sanitary measures
The arrival of foreign workers must, however, be governed by a health protocol. “We call on all employers to act responsibly”, warns Jérôme Volle, vice-president of the FNSEA. We are currently discussing with the Ministry of Health on the modalities of physical distance, protective equipment, barrier gestures or the adaptation of housing. ”
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Among the constraints feared by the profession, a compulsory quarantine was notably mentioned during the discussions. Fourteen-day confinement could be applied to European nationals who are currently outside the Schengen area. A measure judged “Extremely penalizing” by the president of the FNSEA. “We need these workers very quickly, adds André Bernard, it’s a matter of days. ”
And to continue: “In addition, it will be necessary to monitor the workers’ state of health: carry out regular temperature checks and measurements, as well as organize treatment by the village doctor or by nearby hospitals if there is suspected cases of Covid-19. For proven cases, some farmers have already planned to leave a shelter available for the sick so that they can isolate themselves. “
A warning for the profession
Daniel Sauvaître, arboriculturalist and secretary general of the interprofession of fresh fruit and vegetables (Interfel), is concerned about these additional instructions: “The Covid-19 crisis has redistributed the cards. For example, there will be less housing available this year, the campsites being closed. ” The coronavirus crisis and the lack of manpower should therefore serve as a warning to farmers, he said. “For the next few years, we will have to think of a way to attract and favor locals. “
To do this, André Bernard plans in particular “Long-term training for unemployed local workers. We have to mitigate these migratory flows and imagine a system so that the wealth that we create benefits French workers more. “ Finally, Dominique Chargé suggests valuing agricultural professions through remuneration: “The crisis questions our ability to have our own workforce for our food sovereignty. Achieving food self-sufficiency means giving back importance to manual labor in France. “