Nearly 200 people have been flown into Ireland on a chartered flight this week to pick strawberries despite the ongoing global pandemic and public isolation over COVID-19.
189 workers arrived from Sofia in Bulgaria on Monday on chartered Ryanair flight FR6015 to work on Keelings strawberry farms.
Following widespread criticism and backlash on social media, the company released a statement last night confirming that “a number of skilled horticulture staff have returned to Ireland to work with Keelings”.
Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin North West, Paul McAuliffe, has called on the government and Dublin fruit company Keelings to answer public concerns regarding the decision to bring seasonal fruit workers from Bulgaria to carry out a strawberry harvest at the north Dublin facility.
Deputy McAuliffe said: “Members of the public have contacted me with real concerns about large numbers of seasonal workers arriving in Dublin airport. These workers have all clearly travelled more than the 2kms from their home and while the work they carry out may be deemed to be essential, I do not believe that it was essential during this crisis to move such a large number of people more than 2km and across the continent.”
“I am calling on the company to issue a far more detailed statement outlining the precise measures which have been taken to protect the workers and those in our community. I simply do not believe that this measure was necessary to save the fruit crops from spoiling. Given the historically high level of local unemployment, the desire by many people to be active and the national spirit to work together, it was not beyond the company’s ability to harvest their crop in another way.
People Before Profit TDs Richard Boyd Barrett, Bríd Smith and Gino Kenny have released a statement on the controversy over the actions of the Keeling’s company bringing in workers on a Ryanair flight to pick fruit at their sites across Dublin.
The TDs are demanding that both the HSA and the WRC inspect the facilities to insure the workers are housed and working in conditions which will allow for social distancing and isolation if needed. They condemned both Keeling’s and Ryanair for what they called “gross exploitation of workers and complete disregard for their safety and the safety of wider community”.
“Many people were rightly shocked by footage of large numbers of people coming off a Ryanair flight last night. Reports suggest the flight was full, that no social distancing could be implemented, and the workers are due to work as fruit pickers in Keeling’s sites. Many are rightly outraged that Ryanair could pack a flight and that Keeling’s could have such little regard for the safety of these workers and the wider community.
“While ordinary people are in lockdown with only essential work carried out, we have heard of multiple stories of employers and business trying to get around the rules. Many employers are trying to get workers to carry out non-essential work or failing to implement safety rules because of costs.
“Keeling’s, a 300-million-euro multinational business, have shown utter disregard for the safety of their workforce and the wider community. The government and the relevant authorities such as the HSA have been asleep and refused to enforce safety guidelines on many employers.
“Keeling’s and others thrive on low paid labour to carry out the essential work around food production. That’s how they make their money. We call on the Government to ensure these workers are paid properly and have accommodation that allows for social distancing and isolation if necessary. Keeling’s must be held to account for the safety and health of these workers. This means the WRC and the HSA must inspect the facilities where these workers will work and stay.
We can confirm that a number of skilled horticulture staff have returned to Ireland to work with Keelings. We are also recruiting for local workers to join us in picking our crops on the farm along with other roles in the Keelings business. It is essential that we have adequate staffing on the farm to pick crops quickly as they ripen, or we risk shortages in the market.
The Keeling family is very proud of our amazing team of people in Keelings who are all working very hard and delivering on our responsibility to ensure there is a full supply of Fresh Fruit & Vegetables for everyone.
Across our entire business we have also worked tirelessly to implement the HSE and Government guidelines to ensure we are protecting the health of all of our people. This includes thorough & repeated Covid19 safety coaching and instruction to follow all the HSE guidelines, which includes 14 days of restricted movement for any new arrivals in the country, prior to starting work in Keelings.
A very important part of our workforce for many years has been our skilled seasonal workers who return to us to help pick our fruit and manage our plant health. 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.
We again want to assure people that no horticulture worker coming from another region will be asked to work without a full 14 days restricted movement.
If you are interested in joining us for a role in Keelings this year we are only too happy to hear from you. See www.keelings.ie for further details.
The Keeling Family
For more information, please contact us at [email protected]