"some Polish workers have stayed, others are not coming"

Dutch growers deal with labour issues due to COVID-19 outbreak

Labour has always been a tricky issue, but these days with the Coronavirus problem it is even more so than usual. In the greenhouse vegetables, harvesting must continue and in the ornamental horticulture sector, where the hardest blows are currently taking place, the labour demand also decreases with the decrease in sales. So it its doing the best with what is available.

"The chrysanthemums are already being looked at by growers whether they are going to dump them or if they should use a shredder for the crop," says Daan Tas from Task Employment Agency. He sees that with the sales restrictions imposed on growers in the floriculture sector, the labour requirement is decreasing. "There is less need to bunch and sleeve the plants, so fewer people are needed."

Switching of hands
Where hands are available, they may be used in other places, for example with vegetable growers. Postuma AGF, a fruit and vegetable wholesaler, is currently looking at the moment whether the pupils, who are normally employed in the wholesale trade, can start at growers with labour needs. "At the moment, this is not immediately necessary, because many Polish workers have stayed in the Netherlands and extra school youth is also available," says manager, Jarno Kwakkel. "But we keep this option open to support our growers."

Jarno also sees that there is currently still a lot of uncertainty about the exact consequences of the latest measures. "The catering industry has come to a complete standstill and retailers are selling more, so it is restless."

Keep running
Growers, meanwhile are doing everything within their power to keep things going. "We started early to anticipating what was to come," says Hannie Moors of Kwekerij Moors, which grows peppers. The company is not yet in production, but has already started to anticipate what is to come. All relevant legislation and regulations have been checked and a call to the bank has already been made to know what can be counted on, should problems arise if the prices for peppers collapse or even delivery is no longer allowed.

For the time being, however this is not yet an issue and there are also 'no acute problems' at sweet pepper nursery Moors. "The food supply is one of the crucial professions, so our staff can still take their children to school or daycare. That helps. We also split staff where possible and do not let everyone go into the greenhouse at the same time. The greenhouse is actually large enough to work in isolation, but we have closed the smoking area and put a chair between everyone during the breaks."

Staying and leaving
They also take similar measures at Genson Group. Management had consultations this morning and further tightened all protocols. "We then informed the employees in all languages," says Marie-Louise Raats. It is not yet high season in soft fruit, but it will be exciting in terms of staff in the near future. "We have to wait and see how many staff will be added. We have already heard from a number of staff that they do not dare to come from Poland because of the virus and vice versa, there are also Polish workers who would go back to Poland for a while, but who do not dare to do so now for fear that they will have to be quarantined for two weeks."

Spreading out
Genson Group itself also has a lot of housing for its own staff. Measures have also been taken there. We work with many different locations and can therefore spread it out quite well. At the moment there are not yet a large groups of people together and also during the breaks we spread out the staff, while the office workers also have a separate time to break."

A blessing in disguise in the greenhouse vegetables is currently that it is still the beginning of cultivation, Daan notes. "The tomatoes are also still at the beginning of their cultivation and that actually applies to all crops."

He himself still has enough staff available. "It is true that as soon as someone is sick, you can no longer send that person to the grower. Especially since you also have to deal with sometimes older growers and they should not be put at risk, just like everyone tells that needs to keep the garden running."

Labour Task Force
In the meantime, a labour task force has been set up by the sector organisation 'LTO Nederland' to support growers where possible. This team is composed of specialists from the Social Economic Policy Team of LTO Nederland.

Peter Loef, Labour Policy Specialist of Greenhouse Horticulture Netherlands is a member of this team.
M: +31 (0)6 512 643 22
E: ploef@glastuinbouwnederland.nl 

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