Estonian strawberry growers concerned about lack of harvest workers

Strawberry growers in Estonia have recently expressed concerns there will be a shortage of labor and fruit will rot in the fields without the help of foreign workers this summer. However, Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller (EKRE) believes local people should be hired instead.

The strawberry harvest has become a topic of concern as the season is about to start and farmers have not yet found enough pickers. Usually, they would rely on foreign workers who come to Estonia on a short-term work permit, mostly Ukrainians and Belarussians.

However, after the government closed the country's borders to stop people entering from the third countries during the emergency situation - including foreign workers with valid short-term permits - farmers have become increasingly concerned about the lack of agricultural workers for the upcoming summer season. There are rumours the borders could reopen on June 15, although this has not been agreed by the government yet.

The government has said because unemployment is rising in the country Estonians should take the jobs on offer, rather than employers bringing in new foreign workers.

Last week, several strawberry farmers were interviewed in the media, saying their fruit is likely to go unpicked and go to waste, as they cannot find new workers to employ. Farmers have previously said many of the newly unemployed lack the skills or stamina to work in the fields.

Members of EKRE, such as speaker of the Riigikogu Henn Põlluaas, have said farmers need to stop relying on cheap labor, while the farmers have said they already pay fair wages. Arvo Aller said he is convinced enough workers can be found domestically.

Last Wednesday, Elke Lillemets, the head of the Estonian strawberry growers' association (Eesti Maasikakasvatajate Liit) and owner of Marjamaa Farm, said ministers should visit the strawberry fields themselves, to see why there is a need to admit foreign workers.

"If you don't believe what we're talking about, come and see. Here's our whole team, look at those fields and how much help we're missing," Lillemets said on ETV's "Ringvaade". Lillemets said her farm requires approximately 30 more workers for the summer season.


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