Amongst the many problems coronavirus is causing, an imminent one for the fresh produce sector is the shortage of seasonal staff. Longstanding seasonal employees from overseas, many of whom have worked with The Watercress Company for 10 years or more, are unable to come due to movement restrictions caused by COVID-19.
“We have had to apply some lateral thinking to the problem of labour shortages which we know are coming, and whilst clearly we would rather not be in this difficult situation, we are glad to be able to help Monkey World staff,” said Tom Amery, MD of The Watercress Company. “We all need to have a vision to keep our businesses on track in these difficult times. It’s imperative we start our season with a full team as we are responsible for supplying 100 tonnes of watercress a week to the salad aisle of thousands of supermarkets across the UK.”
He explained that the supply of fruit and veg is vital to the nation’s health and that watercress had navigated choppy waters in the past with full uninterrupted supply for the last 120 years.
“We are determined to replicate that this year. Harvesting staff are crucial to allow us to maintain the production of our crop which is cut every 4-12 weeks. Its unique and productive nature uses spring water nutrition and enables harvesting up to six crops a year,” he added.
Watercress has long been regarded as a cleanser of blood and one of the healthiest vegetables available, eaten raw or in soups. Produced on farms throughout Europe and the UK, watercress contains high levels of vitamins C, K & A as well as being a source of iron, fibre and many beneficial antioxidants. During the early years when it was one of the only reliable sources of Vitamin C in the winter people would buy it on the street and eat it like an ice-cream cone.
Tom Amery continues, “Every year from May to October we have welcomed the same experienced seasonal workforce back to help us during the busy UK watercress and salad season. This year, due to coronavirus, we are having to review staffing measures to maintain supplies of watercress to the UK’s supermarkets while we wait for the travel restrictions to lift.
“We have close relations with Monkey World; as another Dorset employer and just a couple of miles away we have partners or relatives working there, and so when we heard their news, we were keen to see if we could help. By looking to employ up to 25 of the Monkey World staff we are lessening the blow of the job losses, while obviously gaining the workers we need at the same time. We hope that by the time border restrictions are eased and our usual seasonal Polish staff can come here Monkey World will be reopening and their staff can return to their normal roles too.”
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