Jack Quann
Jack Quann

17.10 17 Apr 2020


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Fruit company Keelings says it  'fully understands' people's concerns, after it brought seasonal workers to Ireland from Bulgaria.

It follows an online backlash against the move by the company.

The firm also says its communication to the public "should have been both faster and more detailed during this COVID crisis."

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It was revealed on Thursday that it brought a number of workers to Ireland to pick strawberries.

It said nearly 200 workers arrived on a chartered Ryanair flight from Bulgaria on Monday.

Keelings said without these seasonal workers it would "be impossible to bring fresh Irish strawberries to the Irish market."

"We understand the concern in the current environment regarding both social distancing and local employment.

"We want to assure the public that we are doing all we can to help support local employment at this time and to ensure the safety of all our workers", it said.

In an updated statement on Friday, the company said it acknowledged the concerns of people and "fully understand the reasons for these concerns."

The business currently employs about 1,700 people in growing, harvesting, importing and packing fresh produce and in sales, distribution and management.

It added that during the main Irish fruit and vegetable season from April to October, it employs temporary horticultural workers to harvest - about 900 over the season.

It said: "Up until the late 1990’s, we recruited most of our seasonal workers locally, but over the last 20 years there has been less interest from Irish people in this work.

"For the past 20 years, most of our seasonal work has been done by experienced horticultural workers from other EU countries, often from Poland, Latvia and now from Bulgaria.

"They typically come to Ireland for six months."

"This year we recruited in the usual manner over the winter and commenced our job offers at the end of October 2019 to experienced horticultural workers to ensure our Irish harvest.

"Up to 70% of our seasonal workers return to us year after year."

"Like other businesses, we changed our plans and operations in response to the evolving COVID-19 crisis.

"As the pandemic crisis emerged we considered both local staff and international staff and made the decision that we most likely needed both to ensure we could continue to supply the Irish market."

The company also said it advertised locally more than two weeks ago.

Keelings said it assists in finding accommodation for its seasonal workers across a number of locations, and provides bus transport to its farm each working day.

"All the workers are protected by local employment legislation up to and including EU working time directives.

"We are proud of our relationship with the seasonal employees, most of whom return each year and some of whom have been coming to us for more than 10 years.

"We want to assure the public that we are following the HSE and HPSC guidelines as they continue to evolve."

Meanwhile, An Garda Síochána said it has received a number of telephone calls about a group of foreign nationals who have recently entered this country to work.

The force said: "Concerns were expressed that these people were not complying with the COVID regulations.

"An Garda Síochána have investigated these concerns and no breaches of the COVID regulations have been identified.

"Close liaison has taken place and will continue with the management of the centre concerned where these people reside and with any company they work with.

"An Garda Síochána are satisfied that all concerned are aware of their obligations and we will continue to monitor the situation to ensure compliance with national COVID guidelines."


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