Coronavirus: Should Croatia Engage Unemployed in Agricultural Work?

Lauren Simmonds

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Denis Matijevic writes on the 2nd of April, 2020, countries like Austria, Germany and France have already launched websites where unemployed people who are not affected by the coronavirus pandemic can apply to work in the agriculture sector.

A large number of European Union countries facing the spread of the coronavirus pandemic are calling for agricultural ”patriotism” and are warning that agriculture and food production should not stop at this point. The biggest challenge for them is the lack of manpower, which will come to the forefront in an even stronger way once the harvest season begins.

Food supplies around the world are facing increasing obstacles, including export restrictions, and large producers naturally want to secure their citizens’ supply. Numerous countries have reiterated the need for self-sufficiency in food production, and there is a concern that some governments may restrict the flow of basic food products to secure domestic supply in the face of supply chain disruptions.

One of the problems that is particularly striking is that in most EU countries, OPG owners are senior citizens, who are particularly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. According to some figures, as many as 59.7 per cent of OPG owners in the EU are over 65 years of age.

For this reason, numerous governments are trying to find ways to engage those who can work in agriculture, with a focus on those who have already lost their jobs (such as hospitality workers), to help with agriculture work in combination with volunteering and securing an income.

Some countries believe that one of the financial measures could be one that would ensure that part of the financial support for the unemployed could be diverted to farmers, so that volunteers could earn a decent income.

They’re calling on hospitality workers who have lost their jobs, such as waiters and cooks.

Austria currently lacks 5,000 workers for their harvest, and as spring approaches, more and more people are going to be needed. Their meat processing industry isn’t in a better position either, as they lack as many as 9000 workers. For this reason, the Austrian Government is urging citizens who are currently free and have no work obligations, to apply and support the agriculture sector. To facilitate this, the government has launched a website through which interested parties can apply.

The appeal was addressed primarily to hospitality and gastronomy employees who are not currently employed, but is also extends to students.

Over recent years, many workers from other EU countries or third countries have been arriving in Germany to undertake seasonal work in agriculture, such as picking asparagus and strawberries, and the coronavirus crisis has caused the countries many difficulties in terms of their labour supply.

About 286,000 seasonal workers work in German fields each year, with most of them coming from other countries. Currently, the most affected people in this field in Germany are fruit and vegetable growers who totally rely on foreign seasonal workers.

The French Government has also called on employees who are currently laid off or aren’t working due to the coronavirus pandemic, to make themselves available to help farmers with seasonal work. Leaders of the FNSEA, France’s main agricultural union, warn that they currently lack around 200,000 people in agriculture.

The FNSEA has also launched a website where residents of France can register to make themselves available to farmers who need workers.

To encourage people to register, those who volunteer will be able to combine their partial unemployment benefits with their wages earned by engaging in seasonal work in agriculture, which are roughly equivalent to the minimum wage.

The possible decline in production across Europe, the difficulty in supplying and the closure of some countries for export could leave the global market without some types of products and food. Croatia, as a major food importer, could be primarily affected by the supply of pork, milk, vegetables and fruit.

Therefore, it is now an opportunity to seriously start thinking about turning things around rather dramatically in terms of Croatian agriculture. At this point, it is necessary to take immediate steps to adopt crisis and rapid measures that will ensure a secure supply and remove obstacles to food production.

Once the coronavirus crisis is over, it will be necessary to make a shift and change the business model for agriculture, raising production and self-sufficiency, and being aware that agriculture and food production is one of the most important strategic branches of the entire economy.

Make sure to follow our dedicated section for rolling information and updates on coronavirus in Croatia.


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