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Wanted: temporary farm help to fill migrant worker gap
With seasonal farm workers unable to travel to Flanders to help with harvests, the government is encouraging locals to step in and help. A website has been launched to match vacancies with people, particularly those temporarily unemployed because of the coronavirus crisis.
Like many other western European countries, Belgium relies on migrant workers to help farmers and horticulturalists during the growing season. But travel restrictions due to Covid-19 mean that many such workers will have to stay in their home countries this year.
The government estimates that some 15,000 seasonal workers are needed in the Flemish farm and horticulture sector this month, rising to 25,000 in May. Big crops such as asparagus and strawberries need to be harvested, and vegetables planted.
Flemish employment service VDAB has already been notified of more than 1,130 vacancies in the sector since the coronavirus measures began. So it has set up the website helpdeoogst.be to address the shortfall.
“Our farmers and horticulturists ensure our food supply. Now they need our solidarity and support,” said Hilde Crevits, the minister responsible for work and agriculture in the government of Flanders.
Farmers and horticulturalists can register vacancies on the site, specifying the kind of work required and how long it is expected to last. It might be planting or harvesting in the fields, or sorting and packing produce indoors.
VDAB will then match these vacancies with potential workers who have registered their interest on the same site. Interviews are conducted by telephone or video.
The site is particularly aimed at people temporarily unemployed because of the coronavirus crisis. They can take up work in agriculture or horticulture, and still keep 75% of their unemployment benefit.
The regular unemployed can also use the site, but must choose between working as a volunteer and keeping their benefits, or taking the wage and foregoing their benefits. Pensioners, students and community workers can also register on the site, or others who simply want to volunteer.
Photo ©Yorick Jansens/Belga