Farms to accept workers from tourism and restaurant industries with reduced jobs amid COVID-19 outbreak

NAGANO/AOMORI, Apr. 12 – As the agriculture industry continues to face severe labor shortage, moves are seen in some areas to dispatch workers from the tourism and restaurant sectors hit by the new coronavirus outbreak to work at farms.

Because of the decrease in the number of foreign visitors and requests by authorities to refrain from making nonessential outings, it is getting increasingly difficult for firms in the tourism industry to maintain employment of their workers.

On the other hand, farms are struggling to obtain workers, as the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented foreign trainees, mainly from China, whom they have relied on for labor, from coming to Japan.

<JA Sakuasama in Nagano collaborating with association of inns>

JA Sakuasama, an agricultural cooperative in Nagano Prefecture, will start a job matching service in cooperation with Karuizawa Inn Association in the prefecture. Hotels and inns will ask their employees whether they wish to work at farms and if they do, which days they can work. The information will be submitted to the farm coop, and the coop will provide the information to the farms so that they can hold interviews with prospective workers.

The farm coop is also considering cooperating with Hoshino Resorts Inc. which operates luxury hotels nationwide. The firm is likely to see its employees’ jobs shrink and is facing the challenge of obtaining jobs for its workers. The farm coop is currently negotiating with the firm on the number of workers and conditions of employment to dispatch people to farms and fruit sorting facilities.

Due to the new coronavirus outbreak, the farm coop has been unable to invite 94 Chinese trainees who were expected to come to Japan to work at farms to pick lettuces and cabbages whose peak harvest season starts in May.

“Producing regions have the mission to deliver safe and delicious farm produce. We hope the move will lead to saving the farmers,” said a JA Sakuasama official.

<Aomori Prefectural Government offering job matching service>

The Aomori Prefectural Government began on April 10 offering a job matching service for the agriculture sector to hire workers of hotels and restaurants which are refraining from opening due to requests from authorities.

The prefectural government set up a counter for the service inside an agriculture and forestry industry support center run by the city of Aomori to offer jobs free of charge. The center will gather information on job offerings together with the JA group and the public employment security office.

Officials of the center will notify hotels, restaurants and transportation firms of the service and support their workers so that they can be hired temporarily in the agriculture sector.

“Labor shortage (in the agriculture sector) will accelerate. We hope more people will use the service,” said an official of the prefectural government’s agriculture, forestry and fisheries division.

The peak harvest season for Chinese yams and other vegetables grown outdoors is approaching in Aomori, but labor shortage has become serious as foreign trainees, mainly from China, cannot come to Japan.

A 64-year-old man of the town of Tohoku in the prefecture who grows Chinese yams on a 3.5-hectare land said: “Some farms started thinking about reducing their acreage because they are shorthanded. It would be really helpful if we had more workers even for a short period of time.”

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