Coronavirus crisis complicates workforce question in rural Latvia

Even with increased unemployment in the first half of 2020, seasonal rural jobs still lack the necessary workforce with certain skills at certain times, reports Latvian Radio.

Farmers are particularly concerned about the beginning of the harvest period in the middle of summer, when guest workers would normally be recruited.

Jānis Straģis, the owner of the farm "Krišjāņi" near Bauska, told Latvian Radio that this spring, the problem of workforce shortages has actually abated somewhat. Previously, there have been difficulties in finding employees for permanent and seasonal vacancies, both in field jobs and in livestock farming.

"I have one narrowly specific, highly responsible position on my farm. It includes direct work with livestock. We have difficulties finding employees for that post. At the moment, the issue has been resolved, but there was a long period of time when the post was vacant," Straģis said.

However, in some instances the lockdown appears to have helped with workforce availability. 

"There are field jobs, for example, crop production, where it's hard to get workers. But this year, because of the virus, many guys who worked in the construction sector have returned to the parish. I can take them in these seasonal jobs," Straģis told Latvian Radio.

He admits that people are often interested in unregistered job opportunities on the farm for short periods of time. The trend has been confirmed in a study conducted this spring by students of the Riga Technical University Institute for International Economic Relations and Customs. 

"Farming is a sector of employment with the largest number of unregistered employees. More than half of our respondents claim that agriculture is a sphere in which the State Revenue Service has hardly any opportunity to "catch" unregistered workers. In terms of seasonal and and one-off jobs, we observed that respondents did not perceive it as unregistered employment - for example, digging potatoes, weeding etc. The main motivator not to register this income is that it is considered beneficial both for the employer and the worker, and not beneficial for those who receive state benefits or pay alimony," said Justīna Hudenko, leader of the study.

In certain agricultural sectors, it is possible for seasonal workers to be employed with reduced income tax. Farmers are repeatedly asking that this opportunity be extended to other areas of farming.

Mārtiņš Trons, representative of the "Farmers Saeima", said that the main concern is about lack of workforce for the harvest between July and the end of September, when guest workers would normally be recruited. In view of the annual shortage of seasonal labor force, "Farmers Saeima" has prepared a letter to the government and to separate ministries, calling for an extension of the reduced income tax scheme to other sectors, which would also decrease shadow economy.

Mārtiņš Trons pointed out that the organization wants farmers to employ more registered workers. However, the talks with the Ministry of Welfare and Finance have been ongoing for three years with no result.

Last year, a total of 3,340 farm workers were employed throughout the season with reduced income tax. This spring, during the first month of the season, around 350 workers have been registered, which is the same number as last April.

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Employment
Economy