Few Ukrainian refugees seek job in agriculture, say farmers

There is a lack of working hands on Latvian farms every harvest season. Ukrainian refugees will not fill these vacancies, farmers predict, Latvian Radio reported June 2.

Ukrainian Viktoriya has been working on the Gulbene municipality farm “Lācīši” since March. She left her home at the beginning of the war. The journey to Latvia took two days, and Viktoriya and her daughter and dog were fleeing directly to Latvia, as her husband, Ivan, has been working here for a couple of years.

Viktoriya has previously worked in a security firm, at a bakery, and in farming. Therefore, when arriving in Latvia, she was prepared to do almost any salaried work and considers that in agriculture Latvia vacancies are available to Ukrainians.

“A lot of women came here fleeing the war, who already have husbands or acquaintances working on a farm. And they also help find work. On the other hand, for example, I have an older sister with children in Poland, and she can't find a job in a small town because relatively many Ukrainians have gone there. It's true. Latvia is small. If it was easy to find a job a few months ago, then now there are more refugees and maybe it's not so simple anymore. However, agriculture is also a specific sector and, if there are vacancies, not everyone is prepared to do that because it is not sitting in the office,” Viktoriya said.

"Lācīši" owner, Gints Gžibovskis, told Latvian Radio that long-term employees were hard to find, and that for three years the farm also employed guest workers from Ukraine. Since the war began, there have been five Ukrainian workers.

"The conditions of employment of foreign migrant workers have been greatly relieved since the crisis. Paperwork is minimized. But we cannot accommodate more guest workers, nor can we ensure good social conditions. So we're not looking for anything right now,” Gžibovskis said.

The farmer said that there are currently no barriers to finding Ukrainian asylum seekers in municipalities and offering jobs, but he also concluded that many did not want to work in agriculture, although they could receive the national average salary.

Shortages of workforce have long been brought to attention by fruit and vegetable farmers, especially berry growers, every harvest season. Māra Rudzīte, head of the farmers' association, thinks that Ukrainian asylum seekers will not fill these vacancies.

Mārtiņš Cimermanis, head of the Rural Consultation and Education Centre, has also observed that many Ukrainian asylum seekers are from urban areas and mostly seek highly skilled jobs.

He said that Latvian farmers preparing for strawberry harvests, for example, and farmers' organizations should actively collect employee requests from farms to be transferred to municipal refugee support centers.

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