Since 2010, Ekro has been working with Headex and Faciloo, two agencies that specialise in hiring and housing workers from Lithuania. A well-oiled machine is how you might in the meantime describe the mutual collaboration between the job coach of the veal processor in Apeldoorn, the account manager at Faciloo and the recruitment department in Lithuania. Together, much has been learned, developed and improved in ten years - for instance in the areas of employee satisfaction, image-forming and contact with key stakeholders.
In the VanDrie Group's Dutch meat plants, a substantial part of the work in the production departments is carried out by hired workers, including labour migrants. In recent years, media coverage in The Netherlands has created a rather negative image of labour migrants. How do you feel about this?
Boerema: 'More than 500,000 labour migrants fill vacancies in the Netherlands that are not being filled by Dutch nationals. So not only for the VanDrie Group are they extremely important, but also for the national economy.” Unfortunately, only the negative news gets into the media. Of course, things don’t always go flawlessly, but the actual reality is a lot more nuanced.’
Goddijn: 'It is a small minority that is creating and maintaining prejudice. Just like those few football hooligans who are responsible for a broadly-supported view of football supporters. What's more, the meat processing sector has always had a certain image, as a world of hard men and swearing in the workplace. But I don't see that at Ekro at all. There's a lot of respect for one another.'
An open conversation with one another and with the migrant workers we employ is extremely important. - Jacqueline Goddijn, director at Faciloo
Boerema: 'A broadcast of Burgemeester Undercover in 2018 showed how a number of residents of Apeldoorn were experiencing nuisance from Polish migrant workers employed by Ekro. Of course, we found this very frustrating. This prompted us to enter into discussions with the hiring agencies with which we work about the rules of conduct they apply. The first conversation was with Headex, in relation to the agreements they make with the hire staff from Lithuania. These turned out to be fine. The rules of conduct are laid down in a declaration of intent signed by both Headex and Ekro. The same is planned for next year with the other agencies we are working with. Furthermore, the VanDrie Group only does business with hiring agencies that are certified in accordance with the standards of the Labour Standards Foundation.'
Goddijn: 'We'd like to do away with the shadiness surrounding migrant workers. That's why we've taken it upon ourselves to get in touch with the municipality of Apeldoorn to improve mutual cooperation. As a hiring agency, we are also continuously monitored by external parties. In terms of salaries, for example. But also in the workplace at Ekro and in the houses where the migrant workers live, external checks are regularly carried out. If it turns out something's not right, Ekro is not allowed to do business with us under the Chain Liability Act.'
During their employment at Ekro, migrant workers live in Apeldoorn and the surrounding area. Faciloo arranges accommodation via flexible housing agencies that use the quality label of the Foundation for Flexible Housing Standards. Then how do you ensure that Lithuanian workers are able to settle despite cultural differences?
Boerema: "In the past, we've had to deal with a lot of turnover among hired workers. We then worked hard on improving our onboarding journey. A good start is so important. We at Ekro have only one chance to make a good first impression. The arrival of the job coach in 2019 has contributed a lot to this in a positive sense. He is in close contact with the new employees and provides an extensive introduction. This ranges from familiarising you with our production sites to explaining our working conditions and our rules on hygiene and safety. Together with the employee, the job coach also fills out a training form with which we can follow the employee's development'.
Goddijn: 'Faciloo also offers guidance outside working hours. We have developed a culture book explaining things from waste separation to contact with neighbours. We also apply house rules, as part of the declaration of intent that we have concluded with Ekro. Like Ekro, we ask for feedback from the workforce every year so that we can improve our services. For this reason, we have not been providing accommodation in recreational parks for a number of years now. The feedback showed that people weren't happy with them.'
Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, English... many different languages are spoken in the workplace at Ekro. How do you ensure that migrant workers are aware of the quality requirements promised by the VanDrie Group?
Goddijn: 'People are not allowed to come to the Netherlands for an introduction until they have obtained their food safety certificate. This test has been translated into Lithuanian, so nothing can get lost in translation. Everyone who joins Ekro therefore already has a Dutch recognised food safety certificate.'
Boerema: 'Before someone starts working for us, they are also tested to see whether they have the qualities and knowledge required to safely carry out the work in question. If somebody is going to work in the deboning plant, they need to be skilled. In addition, on day one an employee receives an introduction course and extensive explanation from our job coach. We link people who do not speak Dutch to a colleague who speaks both languages and explains things in their mother tongue'.
Not only for the VanDrie Group are labour migrants extremely important, but also for the national economy. - Willy Boerema, head of HR at Ekro
As you mentioned earlier, the VanDrie Group is partly dependent on labour migrants to keep production running. At the same time, the continuing shortage on the labour market makes finding and retaining good staff a major challenge. What steps is Ekro taking to remain an attractive employer?
Boerema: 'We think it's important that temporary workers also feel at home within the VanDrie Group. That is why we offer them, just like our permanent staff, training so that they can continue to develop. Through our job coach we also hone in on multi-deployablity if an employee indicates that a position isn't suiting him after all'.
Goddijn: 'An open conversation with one another and with the migrant workers we employ is extremely important.” Performance reviews are part of this. Moreover, if it turns out that targeted investments can increase satisfaction, for example offering first aid or ERO courses to people who want to develop themselves further, then these are certainly worth it.'