'Safety is priority' insists Newport firm as it brings in European pickers
A Newport produce firm insists its priority is the safety of the workforce and community as it prepares to bring workers in from Europe.
PDM Produce is bringing in hundreds of staff from mainland Europe to prepare for the summer harvest, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.
Boss Philip Maddocks says the firm, a grower of whole head salads and baby leaves, has had 91 applications from UK residents including people who have been furloughed, but it needs up to 300 to be "operationally efficient".
Last week G's Growers in Cambridge faced criticism for flying in 150 Romanian fruit and veg pickers. Many farms have been struggling to get recruits in to help with the summer harvest, and Shropshire farmer and councillor Dan Morris said the thought the food industry could be in "a lot of trouble" if they can't get enough people in.
Mr Maddocks said: "Our farm in Shropshire has been welcoming experienced European agriculture workers to assist with the harvest for over 20 years.
"This year, although Covid-19 has put additional pressures on the business, we remain committed to the safety of our entire workforce and our role in the British food chain, ensuring families have access to affordable, fresh salad in the summer months.
"To ensure we are operationally efficient, up to 300 skilled agricultural workers join the business every year. We’ve built long term relationships with our workforce and have a 65 per cent returnee rate, with many of our European colleagues returning year-after-year."
He added: "Harvesting is a skilled role. In order to achieve the productivity needed to meet UK consumer demand, the harvesting process has become a highly automated operation. Additionally, fresh produce retail pricing in the UK is the lowest across all European markets, meaning these efficiencies are crucial to our commercial survival.
"All our European workers are being brought into the UK under strict protocols; we have worked to the best practice and advice of Public Health England, ensuring our entire workforce and community is safe.
"PDM Produce Ltd has to date received 91 applications from UK residents. We are processing these applications currently in readiness to start our UK season in a month’s time. Forty-five per cent of our applications are from furloughed or redundant workers.
"Our priority is to look after our entire team, comply with all Government Covid-19 policies, and ensure our fresh produce is on the shelves for everyone to enjoy."
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