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France urges idled workers to head to the fields

By AFP - Mar 24,2020 - Last updated at Mar 24,2020

A worker picks strawberries in a farm in Sainte- Livrade-sur-lot, southwestern France on Tuesday (AFP photo)

PARIS — French Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume appealed on Tuesday for people laid off amid the coronavirus lockdown to help beleaguered crop and livestock farmers who are in need of labourers as summer approaches.

"There are 200,000 jobs possible across the agriculture sector today," in large part because seasonal workers who usually come from Spain or Eastern Europe can no longer enter the country, Guillaume told BFM television.

Farmers say the need for able bodies is urgent as the first harvests loom for asparagus, strawberries and other early-season produce.

"I'm issuing a call to the women and men who are not working, who are confined to their homes, the waiter, the hotel receptionist, the barber in my neighbourhood, whose businesses are closed... and I ask them to join France's great agricultural army," he said.

 He said they would have proper full-time contracts, though it was unclear how people would be able to find the available jobs and eventually receive authorisation to travel -- state unemployment offices have halted walk-in appointments during the lockdown.

"We'll see how we'll be able to make things work," Guillaume said.

Restaurants, hotels and retailers across the country have shut down, hammering the French economy just as the crucial summer tourism season begins.

The country's tourism sector could lose up to 40 billion euros ($43.3 billion) if the crisis lasts three months, junior foreign minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told Sud Radio on Tuesday.

Last year, foreign visitors spent 58 billion euros in the country, while French vacationers added an additional 110 billion euros.

Lemoyne had warned earlier this month that around 10 billion euros of tourist spending would evaporate in the first four months of this year, which began amid a crippling transport strike by rail workers protesting a pensions overhaul.

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