A farmworker employed on a SAFE-managed farm refused to sanitise his hands before getting onto the transporter to take him home after a days’ work recently.
“So, the driver of the transport refused to allow him to board the vehicle. The worker sanitised his hands and home they went. And that shows just how seriously most farmworkers are taking this COVID-19 threat,” said Dries van Rooyen SAFE’s General Manager of Farming Operations.
According to Dries, SAFE farm managers were quick to implement as many measures as they could to reduce the chance of infection among their employees.
“We began with a massive education programme to alert everyone to the threat of the virus and make sure they all understood the situation and how to ensure they remained healthy.
“Then we trained staff to use scanners, distributed masks and gloves and we sanitised farm transport. These rules apply throughout our production line – from harvesting to the packhouses where we pack the fruit for export.”
Where possible, farm managers deployed only workers living on their farms or made it compulsory for those that live off-site to make use of certified, sanitised taxis to get to and from work.
Farm managers also put systems in place to encourage social distancing as far as possible. “What has been interesting to observe”, said Dries, “is the enthusiasm with which our workers have come to work in spite of this virus. They are aware of the changed circumstances and want to contribute as much as they can. It’s been wonderful to see this spirit among our staff at all levels.”
According to Dries, farm managers have tried as far as possible to operate with the minimum number of staff, but at the same time make sure that harvesting and packing is not compromised.
“There is a big demand internationally for citrus and we simply cannot afford not to harvest, pack and export as much fruit as we can.”
SAFE farm managers are fortunate that they do not have to rely on “importing” casual workers from other provinces as some farmers do. Inter-province travel is temporarily banned under lockdown regulations.
“We will have to review the hiring of seasonal labour in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape when those citrus farms come online for harvesting from mid-May. But at least we don’t have the problem that many farmers are experiencing in “importing” farm labourers from other provinces.
“Of course we hope this pandemic comes to an end as soon as possible, but in the meantime, we are doing, and will continue to do, as much as we can to keep all our employees safe and healthy,” concluded Dries.