France appeals for workers laid off during lockdown to help farmers with harvest

France appeals for workers laid off during lockdown to help farmers with harvest
The asparagus is ready for picking. Photo: AFP
French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume has appealed for people laid off amid the coronavirus lockdown to help beleaguered crop and livestock farmers who are in need of labourers as summer approaches.

“There are 200,000 jobs possible across the agriculture sector today,” in large part because seasonal workers who usually come from Spain or Eastern Europe can no longer enter the country, Guillaume told BFM television on Tuesday.

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Farmers say the need for able bodies is urgent as the first harvests loom for asparagus, strawberries and other early-season produce.

“I'm issuing a call to the women and men who are not working, who are confined to their homes, the waiter, the hotel receptionist, the barber in my neighbourhood, whose businesses are closed… and I ask them to join France's great agricultural army,” he said.

He said they would have proper full-time contracts, though it was unclear how people would be able to find the available jobs and eventually receive authorisation to travel – state unemployment offices have halted walk-in appointments during the lockdown.

“We'll see how we'll be able to make things work,” Guillaume said.

Restaurants, hotels and retailers across the country have shut down, hammering the French economy just as the crucial summer tourism season begins.

The country's tourism sector could lose up to €40 billion if the crisis lasts three months, junior foreign minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told Sud Radio on Tuesday.

Last year, foreign visitors spent €58 billion in the country, while French vacationers added an additional €110 billion.

Lemoyne had warned earlier this month that around €10 billion of tourist spending would evaporate in the first four months of this year, which began amid a crippling transport strike by rail workers protesting a pensions overhaul.

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