Farmers say government's attitude toward labor problem is arrogant

Strawberries need to be harvested soon.
Strawberries need to be harvested soon. Source: Mirjam Nutov/ERR

Farmers say that, over the last four months, the government has shown arrogance toward a concern involving just one request - to allow additional help into the country to harvest crops and milk cows - only empty promises have been made so far, although the problem is getting worse and now at least 900 people are needed immediately.

Roomet Sõrmus, chairman of the board of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, told BNS: "For three months already, we have been repeating day after day, like a broken gramophone, that only the opening of borders to foreign labor can solve the acute labor problem in the agricultural sector. The government has only made empty promises or offered lone measures that do not work in practice.

He added: "Where are the Estonian people you promised us to help? We are waiting for them. We need at least 500 people for berry fields in the coming days. If they are not found, the strawberries will remain in the field."

Elke Lillemets, member of the management board of the Estonian Strawberry Farmers Association, said: "We have not asked for a single cent of money, although, as deception, the government has offered options that do not help. The €600,000 proposed by the government to recruit the long-term unemployed has not alleviated the situation at all.

"At a meeting with the prime minister, we made it clear that most locals do not want to come to the field, therefore the offer is incomprehensible. Estonians usually vacation in the summer and one cannot fault them for it. We need people who actually want to come to work."

Lillemets asked: "Prime Minister Jüri Ratas, you said on Aripaev radio that the borders must be opened as soon as possible. Why are you not opening and sending people back from the border?

"Health checks are carried out at the border, we will arrange transport ourselves and are willing to make every effort. Why aren't you? Finland is helping its farmers because Finland is led by a responsible government that cares about its country and people. Must a large part of the harvest really be lost and the bread of many Estonian families taken away in order for the government to understand us? Some producers have already plowed several hectares of strawberry fields because there are no pickers. Most are still fighting, but they are desperate - the harvest cannot be harvested."

Raimond Strastin, head of the Gardening Association, said: "We have been talking in the offices since March, we have been discussing publicly for the last month, but for you, it does not matter, you do not care.

"The Estonian countryfolk are sad and hurting. The solution is one - give us 500 good local workers now or open the border by July 1 at the latest. If you are unable to do that, it is not the strawberry farmers who have grown a glorious harvest that are incompetent, but the government that will not let it be harvested."

According to the Unemployment Insurance Fund, farmers are looking for 937 employees, 472 of them berry pickers.

The number of vacancies has increased by almost 250 in a week. The greatest shortage of berry pickers is in South Estonia - in Põlva, Valga and Tartu counties.

At least 250 strawberry pickers are immediately needed in Põlva County alone. In recent days, there have been more and more reports that Ukrainian citizens with a valid visa, short-term employment registration and biometric passport are being turned away at the Estonian border.

MEP Paet: Estonian govt's indifference to farmers unprecedented

MEP Urmas Paet said that there is no past practice for the government to be so indifferent to farmers.

"The Estonian people have never considered it possible or tolerable to let a harvest go to waste. Fool the field once, the field will fool you nine times. This cry for help of farmers and the indifference of the government to the rural people of Estonia is completely unprecedented," Paet wrote on social media.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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