A farm in Talsi municipality had hoped for guest workers from Uzbekistan and even paid the fee for them, but they did not come. The strawberry grower tries to avoid the strawberry field because it is painful to see how nearly two hectares have already gone to rot. Only those who pick strawberries for themselves are on the field.
Losses are likely to exceed €100 thousand alone because there are no pickers. A hundred people worked on the farm last year, but this year, when harvest times are shorter and more pickers should be needed, there are around 50. Farmers are looking for guest workers throughout Latvia, but the Ministry of Economy (EM) believes that local workers should still be addressed.
Minister of Economics Jānis Vitenbergs said: "A model of seasonal farm workers has been created, where a lower rate of payroll tax has to be paid, various efforts have been made to address this problem. We see in these circumstances, related to Covid-19, that there are still 70 thousand unemployed in the country, which is a really huge number, in these circumstances the priority should be to help our local workforce, the local population."
But local people aren't interested in the strawberry field, said Zane Silgale, president of the company Lubeco. Vacancies are mostly filled by teens.
She said: "Every year it's getting worse and worse. In fact, 14, 15-year-old children are the ones who are prepared to do the job. It's on their holiday. But it's clear that adults, they have a permanent job. Why would they come to work in a strawberry field?"
Therefore, guest workers are the solution. Last year they were ten people from India. This year, 14 from Uzbekistan had been invited. The owner paid nearly €900 to the Office for Citizenship and Migration Affairs (PMLP), but people have still not benefited from employment rights.
Silgale explained: “In order to get guest workers from the Republic of Uzbekistan, we actually stopped at the embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Uzbekistan. As explained to me, the representatives of our embassy in Uzbekistan say they have certain categories, how many students can be admitted, how many long-distance drivers to take, how many guest workers. Accordingly, we probably want too many people from Uzbekistan to come to Latvia."
Meanwhile, PMLP Deputy Chief Executive Maija Roze denied this: “No, there are no restrictions. There is no quota on our immigration. If there is a reason, if there is a need, both residence permits and visas and the right to employment are provided."
But if a person does not reach Latvia, the fee paid is not repaid.
Rose explained: “This state fee is for examining documents. The documents have been reviewed, the invitation has been approved. The further consequences do not depend on us.”
12 thousand guest workers worked in Latvia last year, but only six thousand registered in the first six months of this year. A barrier in this case could be the capacity of the embassies. The adoption of visa applicants in the embassies takes place in accordance with epidemiological requirements, so perhaps the guest workers are still waiting for their turn, explained the administration.
Meanwhile, tens of tons of strawberries die in the strawberry fields. Farms invite residents to go to the fields and to pick strawberries at a lower price for their needs.