Trade union, Unite, has expressed "alarm" at aspects of how 189 migrant workers from Bulgaria have been transported into Ireland to work for Keelings picking strawberries. The company confirmed on Thursday that "a number of skilled horticulture staff have returned to Ireland to work with Keelings".
The firm also said it is recruiting for local workers and that "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 roles are essential service providers under the guidelines issued by the Government on March 28, but concerns were raised over the mode of transport — a chartered aircraft — and Unite said it was contacted in 2018 by Bulgarian workers who previously worked at Keelings and who had raised a number of issues.
As of yesterday afternoon, Bulgaria had 846 confirmed cases of Covid-19 compared with Ireland’’s 13,271.
According to Unite: "It is vital that these workers are protected by the State. This does not appear to be the case. At the very least public health guidelines imposed across the board here were not carried out in the transportation of these workers. Unite calls for, and will be calling in the coming days, for a more open and effective system of workplace inspections and access to protect workers, their families, their communities and everybody throughout this pandemic and beyond."
Keelings said in its statement that it is implementing the HSE and Government guidelines: "This includes thorough and repeated Covid-19 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."
"Without these seasonal workers it would be impossible to bring fresh Irish strawberries to the Irish market. 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."
The Migrant Rights Centre Ireland said: "All workers have the right to work in a safe environment, to have their work valued, with decent pay and standards."