Fruit and vegetable picking is an indutry that needs workers

Back on the Food Chain Gang

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We’re all thinking about how to keep food on the table right now. But if we’re out of work, we could become a link in the chain that actually makes it happen

Lockdown has made prisoners of many of us who, given the chance, would love to be working. Apart from those at home ‘shielding’, or living with those who are, it should now be getting safer to do so. And as Quids in! reported here, now is the time. Many bosses are crying out for staff but that is likely to change after the crisis.

One option is to focus on an industry all of us now know to be a life-saver. The government gave ‘key worker’ status to anyone getting produce out of the ground, onto shelves and through our doors. Is it time to join the unsung army of people keeping the country fed?

PICK FOR BRITAIN

As we head into summer, farmers are wondering how they can keep the country fed. For years, they have depended on migrant labour from the EU and the lockdown has meant Brexit has come early. Will Brits wanting some quality time with the great outdoors step forward themselves?

The website pickforbritain.org.uk is calling on workers to pick up tools. Working with farmers, it aims to ensure good food makes it to our plates, rather than rot in the ground. No wonder crop pickers have been given ‘key worker’ status by the government.

Having contact, (socially distanced, of course), with new people will no doubt provide a mental lift after lockdown. And a day’s hard graft outdoors could be a boon to our physical fitness. That’s not to say it’s an easy option:

“There’s no mistaking picking can be hard work and can involve being outdoors through all weather conditions,” explains the website. “Some of the work will depend on the weather, so flexibility in term of hours you work will be required. A good level of fitness is usually required.

“You will be part of a supportive team, often working outside in the fresh air, and you are bound to make new friends.”

Some farms offer lodgings, so we can make it a working holiday. We just need to check we’re happy with the social distancing and hygiene arrangements.

KEEPING US FED

We have all seen how much we depend on supermarkets and food stores. We cursed the empty shelves and the mile-long queues but now we know they provide a life or death service.

Some stores have dropped their stringent processes for hiring new staff. It always seemed odd that some supermarkets made jobseekers apply online for shelf-stacking work with no need to use a computer. Funny, then, that as soon as the shops were desperate, that went out the window. Same too for interviews. Some people looking for work just phoned the store and were asked to turn up the next day. If they brought their ID, (a legal requirement), they could start the same day.

Not only does shop work get us out of the house, it means we’re front of the queue when it comes to shopping ourselves. Jobs are not that seasonal but hours can sometimes be so flexible we can’t depend on them. It’s a foot onto the jobs ladder, though, and we can think about it as a starting point. At least we won’t be at the back of the jobs queue when lockdown ends.

WHEELS FOR MEALS

In March Morrisons, Aldi and Tesco were advertising 32,500 jobs between them but it was “the soaring demand for home deliveries” that led to this drive. Pun intended. Many of these roles were for delivery drivers. Iceland was also advertising for 150 staff to take to the road.

Amazon, Hermes and food delivery companies like Deliveroo and Just Eat have also struggled to meet the demand for delivery workers. The advice for people to stay home has also meant massive demand for mobile staff. They say they’re improving but not all these employers have a good rep. Those issuing zero hours contracts have been accused of exploiting employees by failing to provide regular hours, decent pay, and holiday and sickness pay. The flexibility they demand can work to our advantage, though, if we have family commitments to work around. They also only need to be a stop-gap option while we wait for the UK to re-open fully.

Behind the scenes there is a military effort to ensure produce ends up where it needs to be. Warehouse staff keep stock safely stored and manage orders from shops and private customers. Personnel here are just as key as those on the frontline and recruiters are on the look-out. Not everyone has enjoyed these roles, criticised for sometimes treating workers like robots. Like with delivery work, though, it might just be a stepping stone. The job at least offers some instant release from lockdown while we organise our post-Coronavirus lives.

For those of us not ready to step out into work just yet, lockdown is also a good time to get planning. There is lots to do that will prepare for the jobs world without leaving home. Read more here.

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