According to Minister of Rural Affairs Arvo Aller (EKRE), the extent of support to be paid out to strawberry growers will depend upon an assessment of damages that will indicate whether any damages were the result of labor issues or something else instead. Chairman of the Rural Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu Tarmo Tamm (Center), however, believes that the problem should have been addressed sooner and that farmers should now be compensated for their damages.
Aller said that it is first and foremost critical to determine whether damages have been the direct result of restrictions on foreign labor entering the country. To do so, the ministry will consult with experts and begin assessing damages; the first overviews are expected to be provided at the end of the month.
"First of all, damages must be assessed," he said. "We can't shoot from the hip and offer up some random numbers without knowing whether and due to what damages have occurred."
According to the current minister, what exactly caused any damages to strawberry growers will be determined in the course of the assessment process. "Whether they were caused by the weather, or by labor," he added.
Asked why taxpayers should pay for damages caused by a decision made by the government, Aller responded that agricultural producers and strawberry growers are taxpayers too. "Whether it will be compensated we can only begin to discuss once damages have been assessed," he said.
Tamm: Response should have come sooner
Tamm, however, himself a former rural affairs minister, said that the government initially failed to acknowledge the existence of a problem, and that strawberry growers should now be compensated for their damages.
"The strawberry issue spans from one extreme to the other," he said. "At first the existence of a problem was not acknowledged — that we'd be capable of harvesting with our own people. Now it became clear that this did not work out, and I believe it is very much the right thing to do, to pay compensation to strawberry growers. This must be done, because if we are growing even somewhere around one third of the strawberries we need domestically, we are importing another two thirds."
According to the Riigikogu committee chairman, support measures must be found in order to offer entrepreneurs in the sector a sense of security and to help ensure that they do not have to let their companies go bankrupt. He added that it wasn't important whether the labor in question was foreign or local; the business-owner was still losing out on revenue.
"Had [foreign labor] been permitted into the country three weeks sooner, then this huge problem wouldn't have existed," he said.
"The Finns solved this problem effectively and quickly," Tamm continued. "Even during its emergency situation, they allowed 4,500 workers into the country initially, and increased the total to 9,000. This was a small lapse on the part of [our] politicians; they could have responded faster. The consequences are sad; producers should not be the ones suffering, because these problems were in no way their fault."
According to Tamm, the Rural Affairs Committee had been in favor from the start of extending the stays of those already in the country.
"I believe that this problem should have been solved," he said. "Fulfilling all health requirements, including necessary testing, etc., of course. To this day, I have not heard that those workers brought into the country had led to any increased illness in Finland. On the contrary, seven Estonian construction workers were infected in Finland. If everything is under control, then this should have been responded to sooner."
Editor: Aili Vahtla