Updated Press Statement Friday 17 April 2020
As a family business Keelings acknowledge the concerns of people and fully understand the reasons for these concerns. We also acknowledge that our communication to the public should have been both faster & more detailed during this Covid crisis.
Keelings has been growing and packing fruit and vegetables for the Irish market since the 1920s. We continue to operate from our farm at St Margaret’s in north County Dublin.
The business currently employs about 1,700 people in growing, harvesting, importing & packing fresh produce and in sales, distribution and management. During the main Irish fruit and vegetable season from April to October, we employ temporary horticultural workers to harvest – about 900 over the season. This is demanding work requiring a high level of dexterity and product knowledge.
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. We have advertised locally over 2 weeks ago and up until last evening we had 27 applications which falls significantly short of our labour needs. Today we have received a further 13 applications so far. We hope to employ as many of these people as possible.
Keelings assists in finding accommodation for our seasonal workers across a number of locations, and provides bus transport to our farm at St. Margaret’s each working day (i.e. Monday-Saturday). All the workers are protected by local employment legislation up to & 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 & HPSC guidelines as they continue to evolve.
On Monday April 13, 189 seasonal workers flew on a charter flight from Sofia to Dublin. All had been health screened by a doctor before they travelled to Sofia airport where they were temperature checked before entry. Ryanair can confirm that all regulations were adhered to. They were taken straight to their housing. In accordance with HSE guidelines, they cannot work for 14 days after their arrival and their movements are restricted. We will take care of these colleagues as we take care of all of our people, permanent or temporary. They will be subject to further medical screening before they start work at Keelings. We will continue to consult with the HSE and other appropriate agencies to ensure both our staff and the communities they live in remain safe.
As part of Ireland’s essential food supply chain, our role is to provide good, healthy and affordable food to the people of Ireland, produced sustainably and safely.
Keelings appreciates, acknowledges and unreservedly thanks the public for their concern. We really hope that this statement serves to clarify and reassure.