Agricultural Workforce Crisis in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic
1.1. The Pandemic Background
1.2. Pandemic Effects on Agriculutral Sector
1.3. Policy Approaches to Mitigate the Negative Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Agriculture
- Substituting seasonal migrant labor with domestic workers: websites were created to put unemployed individuals and part-time workers in touch with farmers. As a means to encourage this policy, the workers could combine unemployment benefits with the agricultural wage. Although this measure seemed to be successful at the first stage, attracting a plethora of applicants, the recruitment rates were very low, as the applicants wanted to return to their jobs as soon as possible. In addition to this, extra training costs arose, given that there was an important mismatch of the required skills.
- Applying deviations from labor laws so as to allow agricultural workers to work more: for instance, in France, workers were allowed to work also on Sundays and for more hours. In return, the hours worked further than a defined threshold were paid as overtime.
- Implementing very strict health measures during the reception of the seasonal migrant workers: to that end, seasonal migrants could enter Germany, for example, exclusively by plane and only when they were tested for COVID-19. Afterwards, for the first two weeks they should live and work separately from the other workers. Nevertheless, taking into account the high rates of COVID-19 cases in Europe, they faced the reasonable workers’ fear of being infected by the virus if they came to work.
- Regularizing irregular migrants: even though the exact number of them is hard to assess, irregular migrants are working in the agricultural sector. Their assistance in such a labor shortage crisis would definitely be beneficial. However, this constitutes a controversial approach, particularly for countries having very restrictive migration policies.
1.4. Aim of the Study
2. Materials and Methods
- Minimal risk—when it does not require the physical presence of the worker in order to be performed. Usually, this level includes office tasks that can be carried out remotely (teleworking potential). Obviously, considering the remote execution of the task, there is no chance of touching contaminated surfaces.
- Low risk—when it requires the physical presence of the worker in the field/office/laboratory. Little contact with other people is required, mostly with the same individuals every day, while there is a little chance of touching contaminated surfaces.
- Moderate risk—when physical human presence is required in the field/office/laboratory. Moderate contact with other people is needed, mostly with the same people every day. Moreover, contact with costumers or workers from different places may be observed, while there is a moderate chance of touching contaminated surfaces.
- High risk—when physical human presence is required in the field/office/laboratory while considerable contact with other people is observed including customers, workers from different places and so on. In addition, there is a high chance of touching contaminated surfaces.
3.1. Contamination Risk Level Distribution in Agricultural Occupations
3.2. Annual Budget and Total Workforce Effect
4. Discussion and Conclusions
- Physical distancing: (a) the limitation of close contact by ensuring a 2 m minimum distance. This distance must also be kept during breaks; (b) the limitation of the number of people working together in one workspace, especially the closed ones like greenhouses, by working in shifts; (c) installing signage for maintaining physical distancing; (d) the use of alternative ways of communication, such as teleconferences and emails instead of face-to-face meetings. If it is necessary, meeting in outdoor spaces is highly recommended; and (e) if social distancing cannot be maintained, face masks must be worn, while their usage, taking off and disposal must follow all the instructions of WHO .
- Hygiene practices: (a) all workers should know how to properly wash their hands as well as avoid touching their mouth and nose. Moreover, a personal hand sanitizer should be provided to all workers to prevent the multiple usage of a single one. Frequent hand washing should be encouraged before entering the farm, before and after breaks, or after contact with surfaces and other people; (b) all non-essential visitors must be kept off the farm. Essential visitors, such as those needed for the care of the cleaning facilities and animals, must follow all the above practices concerning both physical distancing and good hygiene. Moreover, visitors should avoid visiting the same washroom facilities with the farm employees; (c) handling packages received at the farm must be left untouched for quite some time or disinfected in order to reduce the possibility of the virus being present on the surfaces; (d) the cleaning frequency of commonly touched surfaces and areas, like machinery, workstations, farm equipment and washrooms, must be increased; and (e) wherever possible, each worker should use their own tool, tractor, etc.
- Other precaution measures: (a) pre-authorizing farm visitors; (b) regularly checking workers for signs of COVID-19, such as shortness of breath, coughing and/or fever. In case someone has any symptom, they must self-isolate and notify their supervisor as soon as possible to call a doctor and provide the COVID-19 testing. If the workers test positive, all the other employees that work in the same environment or came into contact with them must be quarantined. Immediately after, COVID-19 test must also be provided for them in order to protect their families; (b) with the object of restricting the COVID-19 pandemic spread, the farms, as far as possible, need to be isolated so as to minimize the number of infected cases in case of someone contracting COVID-19; (c) farm employers and supervisors must be kept informed, and train workers about how to protect themselves from the coronavirus, well communicating the required measures, and following all national health warning recommendations associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Conflicts of Interest
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|8-Digit O*NET Code||Occupation||No. of Tasks|
|11-9013.01||Nursery and Greenhouse Managers||20|
|11-9013.02||Farm and Ranch Managers||26|
|13-1074.00||Farm Labor Contractors||8|
|19-1013.00||Soil and Plant Scientists||20|
|19-4011.02||Food Science Technicians||15|
|45-1011.07||First-Line Supervisors of Agricultural Crop and Horticultural Workers||24|
|45-1011.08||First-Line Supervisors of Animal Husbandry and Animal Care Workers||18|
|45-2041.00||Graders and Sorters, Agricultural Products||5|
|45-2091.00||Agricultural Equipment Operators||17|
|45-2092.02||Farmworkers and Laborers, Crop||14|
|45-2093.00||Farmworkers, Farm and Ranch Animals||22|
|49-3041.00||Farm Equipment Mechanics and Service Technicians||13|
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Bochtis, D.; Benos, L.; Lampridi, M.; Marinoudi, V.; Pearson, S.; Sørensen, C.G. Agricultural Workforce Crisis in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sustainability 2020, 12, 8212. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12198212
Bochtis D, Benos L, Lampridi M, Marinoudi V, Pearson S, Sørensen CG. Agricultural Workforce Crisis in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Sustainability. 2020; 12(19):8212. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12198212Chicago/Turabian Style
Bochtis, Dionysis, Lefteris Benos, Maria Lampridi, Vasso Marinoudi, Simon Pearson, and Claus G. Sørensen. 2020. "Agricultural Workforce Crisis in Light of the COVID-19 Pandemic" Sustainability 12, no. 19: 8212. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12198212