The fruit harvest in the Baix Segre, one of the largest stone fruit production areas in Europe, located in the province of Lleida, will start in three weeks with cherries and apricots. The campaign mobilizes 40,000 temporary workers each year, according to the Fruit Business Association, but this year they will not be able to travel to that region due to the restrictions on mobility implemented internationally to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
One of the municipalities affected in the region is Alcarràs, which has a population of 9,500 inhabitants and is the capital of the Baix Segre. This is the location of the headquarters of some large fruit exporters, as well as of machine manufacturers, refrigeration plants, accommodation and services of all kinds.
"Restless agricultural producers are calling all the time," says the mayor of Alcarràs to El Nacional.cat. "Many producers with a fixed crew of day laborers have found themselves with them away in Romania, Morocco or Ecuador," says Ezquerra, who is also a spokesperson for the Platform for the Defense of Fruit. "They will not return: they cannot return because of the pandemic."
A manifesto and three demands
The lack of manpower and the threat that the campaign cannot be carried out have forced both Alcarràs and the remaining 40 fruit municipalities, unions and employers in the region to write and sign a manifesto, which they have sent to the Catalan and Spanish governments, demanding exceptional solutions for this situation. Madrid is being asked to eliminate the paperwork and consider a "provisional legalization" of those registered without a work permit willing to work on the fruit harvest and who already live in the producing municipalities. They are "workers already present in the territory, and we are in an exceptional situation," aggravated by the closure of borders, which makes it impossible to hire foreign temporary workers, as in the past.
It is hoped that the Catalan government will facilitate the incorporation of young and unemployed people to work in the harvest.
Ezquerra says that both administrations have to make an effort and be creative. "Incentives are needed for these people to come to work in the fields, like tax breaks or some other motivation." What the fruit sector fears is that while unemployment insurance allows you to make a living, few will dare to work in the fruit sector.
The manifesto is also asking the administrations to guarantee the availability of PPE (personal protective equipment) "to ensure that the work in the agricultural sector can be carried out safely and without danger of infection."