MAY 20, 2020
Prince Charles has been accused of “playing the lord of the manor” after urging furloughed workers in the U.K. to pick fruit for minimum wage.
Britain does not have enough people to collect this year’s harvest after coronavirus hit the supply of seasonal workers from Europe who normally endure the physically challenging work for around $10 an hour.
The Prince of Wales warned food may rot on trees if Britons cannot be convinced to roll up their sleeves and gather it themselves.
Much like Queen Elizabeth II’s well-received COVID-19 special broadcast, the campaign’s slogan, “Pick for Britain” invokes the wartime message “Dig for Victory” and the prince himself referenced the wartime Land Army.
Charles stressed the need for people who are “genuinely going to commit” and “pickers who are stickers.”
He said: “I do not doubt that the work will be unglamorous and, at times, challenging.
“But it is of the utmost importance and, at the height of this global pandemic, you will be making a vital contribution to the national effort.”
The U.K. needs an estimated 80,000 extra workers as 98 percent of fruit pickers in the country in 2019 were from overseas, mostly Romania and Bulgaria.
However, the prince was hit with criticism after wading into what has become a thorny subject in Britain and one that has at times sat at the heart of the Brexit debate.
Next year, Britain is set to come out of its transition period with the E.U., with a new immigration system that may exclude seasonal workers.
The result, many farmers say, could devastate U.K fruit picking because the country’s citizens will not be willing or able to endure the difficult task for such low pay.
Some commentators have even suggested British people are too lazy to do the work, all adding up to a politically charged atmosphere.
Graham Smith is chief executive of pressure group Republic, which campaigns to end the monarchy.
He said: “How many hours fruit picking are Eugenie and Beatrice [Charles’ nieces] going to be doing?
“He’s the last person to be getting into these things. He’s playing the lord of the manor, expecting the serfs to till the soil. It’s so poorly judged. He doesn’t have the faintest idea how these things work. He doesn’t understand that people are still trying to deal with the impact of lockdown and worrying about their jobs.”
Critics say fruit picking jobs are often based far from major towns, meaning recruits would have to travel across the country to sign up, an unattractive prospect for families.
For some this could also mean renting accommodation, taking a sizable chunk out of the minimum wage offered for the work.
Former fruit picker Steve Jones told The Guardian: “To point out the obvious, it’s an incredibly physical job.
“Having worked as a fruit-picker for years, I can tell you that it’s certainly not (as some television ads imply) wandering calmly through a field or orchard, casually selecting an apple or a cauliflower.
“You have to work quickly, carrying heavy bags of apples, or bent over picking strawberries, and, other than lunchtime, without the luxury of the familiar coffee break or chat in the kitchen with a colleague.”
And Joel Golby, author of Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant, accused the prince of a double standard over his video message.
Writing in The Guardian, he said: “There are some very loaded terms in there, aren’t there?
“Prince Charles saying ‘hard graft’ alone should be enough to get the Robespierres [a famous French revolutionary] among us fired up.
“The idea that he is parroting cool farming lingo that he has heard but never had to learn through work does rather put the (British-grown!) cherry on the sundae, too.
“Pick literally one Brussels sprout out of the ground, Prince Charles. Then I’ll join your little allotment army.”