Every year, AB Werkt recruits 700 fruit pickers from Poland – And this is how we get ready!

A tough but rewarding job. That’s how account manager Niek van Loenhoud describes the annual fruit-picking season in Zeeland, which runs from late August to roughly mid-autumn. He and seven of his AB Werkt colleagues are responsible for making sure that fruit growers in the region get the extra pairs of hands they need during that crucial period. And they do that by recruiting around 700 pickers from Poland every year. ‘We take care of everything, from the work and the payments to providing assistance, the accommodation, and all of the paperwork.’

‘In Zeeland, we have about 80 fruit growers as clients,’ says Van Loenhoud. ‘Almost all of them grow apples and pears. The best time to harvest them – which is a huge job – is at the tail end of the summer.’ And it is during that peak period that AB Werkt jumps in to help. ‘We bring over around 700 workers from Poland. We recruit them through professional intermediaries in Poland. We have good relationships with these offices, which means that we are able to improve our services for both the growers and the workers year after year.’

Hundreds of numbers

‘As you can imagine, we make sure we are well prepared for the arrival of such a large group of workers,’ continues Van Loenhoud. ‘For example, we have to arrange all the citizen service numbers; the workers need one of these to be able to work in the Netherlands. Well over three quarters of them already have one because they have worked in the Netherlands before. For the rest, we apply for numbers from the municipality. The pickers have to actually go to the town hall to collect them themselves. And, of course, we help them with that. We set aside two days for this, and we draw up a detailed schedule for the workers, the clients, and the municipality. This way, we make sure that everything runs as smoothly as possible for everyone involved and that the workers get paid promptly.’

Living on a holiday park

Then there’s the accommodation. Every year, it’s a mammoth task to make sure things are arranged properly, says Van Loenhoud. ‘Out of all the workers, around 300 can stay with the client. We arrange the accommodation for the rest. You can’t expect housing corporations to reserve houses for us for the few weeks of the year that we need them. So we have to look for new solutions every year. Fortunately, we can usually find our workers a place to stay on a holiday park that has good-quality cottages. And that’s important, because we want people to be comfortable. After a day’s work, they should be able to crash on a comfortable sofa and sleep in a comfortable bed – that’s really important to us.’

Not just a number

For AB Werkt, it’s ideal to have a location where many workers live close to each other. ‘We’re responsible for assisting all the workers for whom we arrange accommodation, which is why we drop by once a week to see how they are getting on. Is everyone happy? Do they have any questions about the work? Is there anything we can do to help them? These chats are incredibly important for AB Werkt’s relationship with the workers. They’re not just a number to us. Some people have been coming back to us for ten years in a row. It’s great to see how much they appreciate our approach.’

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