Fingal Independent

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Keelings defends flying in foreign workers


A Fingal fruit and vegetable company has responded to widespread criticism of its decision to fly in foreign staff from Bulgaria to pick fruit on its farm, saying it was essential that the business had 'adequate staffing on the farm to pick crops quickly as they ripen, or we risk shortages in the market'.

Keelings has faced a backlash over flying workers from Bulgaria in to work on its farm, last week.

The local fruit company, Keelings has acknowledged public concerns over the employment of 189 seasonal workers who flew into Dublin from Bulgaria last week, saying its communication on the issue should have been 'faster and more detailed.'

189 workers arrived to Dublin Airport from Bulgaria last week to carry out a strawberry harvest at the Keelings facility, sparking public controversy over the decision to fly in workers from abroad during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A statement issued by Keelings read: '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.'

Explaining what took place, the Kelling family said: '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 and Dublin Airport 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.'

The statement continued: '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.

'Keelings appreciates, acknowledges and unreservedly thanks the public for their concern. We really hope that this statement serves to clarify and reassure.'

According to Keelings, most of its seasonal work over the past 20 years has been carried out by experienced horticultural workers from other EU countries.

Keelings stated that as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the company considered both local staff and international staff and made the decision that both would be required to ensure it could continue to supply the Irish market.

The company also stated it wished to assure the public it was following the HSE & HPSC guidelines as they continued to evolve.

Keelings in St Margarets has been growing and packing fruit and vegetables for the Irish market since the 1920s.

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

Deputy Louise O'Reilly TD (SF) expressed concern over the company's actions: 'Concerns have been expressed by many people here in north Dublin, and further afield, in respect of the decision by Keelings to fly seasonal workers into Dublin.'

She said: 'We are looking for clarity from the government about how they intend to handle this situation going forward in the context of current restrictions to protect public health.'

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