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Verner Wheelock Excellence Award Winners revealed!

Verner Wheelock Excellence Award Winners

The Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards

We might have been in lockdown and in and out of tiers last year, but the pandemic didn’t prevent us from delivering their training courses to the food industry or providing ethical audit services. It certainly didn’t stop us from presenting our annual Excellence Awards last week.

The Verner Wheelock Excellence Awards were introduced in 2015 to coincide with our 25th anniversary and comprise six categories. These are: HACCP Student of the Year, Auditing Student of the Year, Food Safety Student of the Year, Individual Excellence, Company Excellence and Ethical Excellence.

And the winners are…

  • HACCP Student of the Year 2020
    Sarah Eames, Group Technical Manager at World Wise Foods
  • Food Safety Student of the Year 2020
    Michelle Teape, Technical Compliance Auditor at Müller Milk & Ingredients
  • Auditing Student of the Year 2020
    Sue Nock, Technical Systems Manager at Saputo Dairies UK
  • Individual Excellence
    Helen Harris, Training Co-ordinator at Pladis Global
  • Company Excellence
    Pilgrim’s UK
  • Ethical Excellence
    Berry Gardens

Normally, the Awards are presented in person at the recipients’ premises, but this year they took place virtually via a Zoom conference call.

“This year has certainly been different,” said MD, Alison Wheelock, “but we were determined to continue to provide our customers with the training and audits they need and to recognise outstanding delegates and customers through our Excellence Awards.”

Awards criteria

The HACCP, Auditing and Food Safety awards are given to delegates who have shown a genuine interest, understanding and flair for their subject. They have engaged and interacted well with the course trainer and other delegates and demonstrated excellent knowledge through impressive examination results.

VWA HACCP Award Winner

“Verner Wheelock and our trainer, Julie, did a fantastic job”

Sarah Eames, World Wise Foods

Sarah Eames, recipient of the HACCP award said, “It was a lovely surprise to hear that I’d won the HACCP student of the year award!  When we scheduled the training course last April, I wasn’t too sure how well it would work – we were all remote (including two of my team based in Bangkok!) and we had both level 3 HACCP and level 4 HACCP students in the same classes.  Verner Wheelock and our trainer Julie did a fantastic job of tailoring the course appropriately and we all thoroughly enjoyed having some time together as a team whilst completing some of our training needs.  Thank you!”

Sue Nock attended a Verner Wheelock FDQ Lead Auditor course last year. As part of the course, the delegates perform a mock audit of Verner Wheelock’s Quality Management System (QMS). The entire course and audit was delivered remotely and Sue’s natural auditing style really impressed the Verner Wheelock team. She said, “I was absolutely thrilled and surprised to be awarded Auditing Student of the year.  It was a privilege to be nominated and to be recognised for the hard work.  I found the delivery of the course to be inclusive, interesting and thoroughly enjoyable especially in the current climate.”

An exception to the rule

All previous Individual Excellence award winners have been course delegates. However, this year the decision was made to present the award to Helen Harris, Training Co-ordinator at Pladis UK’s Ashby de la Zouch site, who had been outstanding in her efficiency throughout the year.

Helen said, “I am truly honoured to have won this award. I have been in this role nearly four years and have been working with Verner Wheelock during that time. I have always found the Verner Wheelock team extremely professional, helpful, accommodating and a truly lovely, friendly bunch of people to work with.

I have to organise training for approximately 80 people from 11 different sites, so co-ordinating this many people can prove challenging, but between myself and the Verner Wheelock team we have always seemed to manage it.  2020 was obviously a different year for everyone and Verner Wheelock stepped up to the mark once again and helped me arrange remote training for team members that needed it.” 

Michelle Teape of Müller Milk & Ingredients was thrilled to receive her Food Safety Award.The skills I have are testament to the development I have received within Müller, and the encouragement I have received from colleagues on a daily basis,” she said. “I would like to especially thank the Müller Milk & Ingredients technical team for supporting my progression and the excellent training given by Verner Wheelock.”

Ethical Excellence

Andy York, Responsible Sourcing Manager of Pilgrim’s UK, the largest pig farming business in the UK, summed up the feelings of many on news of his Company Award, saying, “Thank you so much, it’s so nice to have some positive news for a change!” Pilgrim’s are an ethical auditing client of Verner Wheelock who are committed to ensuring that audits take place and the continuous improvement of environments and workplaces for their workers.

Lizzy Nuttall VWA Award Winner

“It’s lovely to receive news like this, in all this misery”

Lizzy Nuttall, Berry Gardens

Lizzy Nuttall of Berry Gardens, another of Verner Wheelock’s ethical audit customers, echoed his sentiments. “It’s lovely to receive news like this, in all this misery,” said Lizzy.

Berry Gardens, the UK’s leading berry and stone fruit production and marketing group, has won this year’s Ethical Excellence Award. Lizzy said, “This award demonstrates the work that has gone into improving our management and post audit follow up of ethical auditing internally. Also the work that our growers have put in to all aspects of worker welfare on their farms, as seen by the reduction in numbers of non-conformances raised in ethical audits in recent years. This can also be demonstrated by the positive feedback received from growers with regards to the way the whole process is managed.

We have worked with Verner Wheelock for a number of years and over that time, the relationship has improved greatly. They are our first point of contact for queries on matters relating to worker welfare. The team understands our business and the challenges presented by ethical auditing for our growers. They are willing to adapt and communicate fully with us when issues arise which may affect our ability to complete audits and also follow ups within the timescales we would like. The auditors that visit our farms are understanding of the issues our growers face, and this has been particularly evident in 2020 with the restrictions and concerns that our growers have had regarding on farm physical audits.

Verner Wheelock also have a good relationship with retailers which gives us confidence that issues we are facing are communicated to the right people, therefore aiding resolutions where they might be required.”

Staying strong in 2021

We are committed to providing high quality training and ethical audits for the food industry, even during Covid-19. Our courses are offered face-to-face (subject to social distancing requirements) and remotely and cover all levels of HACCP, Auditing and Food Safety as well as specialist courses such as Legal Labelling and Managing Food Allergens. Live SMETA audits are also going ahead wherever possible.

More information can be found at www.vwa.co.uk

Farms need your help to ‘Feed the Nation’

During World War Two people were encouraged to ‘Dig for Victory’. This encouraged Britons to be self-sufficient – to turn over their flower beds, lawns and back yards to the growing of fruit and vegetables.  In 2020 in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are being urged by the Government to ‘Feed the Nation’. The initiative refers yet again to the provision of fruit and vegetables, but this time UK residents are needed to help in the harvesting and packing of fresh produce on farms and its distribution to grocery retailers.

Foreign workers unable to travel

Why this urgent call to action? Put simply, the majority of these seasonal roles are normally fulfilled by foreign workers, who travel from Eastern Europe each year. Several have longstanding relationships with farmers and return year after year. However, travel restrictions because of coronavirus have dictated that they are unable to come here at the moment.

Of the 90,000 seasonal jobs available on farms, 70,000 are usually undertaken by migrant workers. As you might imagine, this leaves a huge shortfall. If the crops aren’t picked in time, they will rot and be unsaleable. Obviously this has a knock-on effect in terms of supply. Fewer crops harvested translates to a shortage on the supermarket shelves, not to mention the economic effects on the farmers.

It has been reported that around 450 Romanian nationals will be flying in from Bucharest this week, under strict travel controls. They will undertake social distancing on the flights and will be provided with masks and hand sanitisers. This will help to ease the situation a little in East Anglia where they have been allocated jobs to harvest and pack spring onions, peas and beans. Nevertheless, there are still hundreds of jobs to be filled, including pickers, packers, farm machinery operatives and delivery drivers.

Ethically sound farms

There are sometimes reports in the media of poor working conditions and excessive working hours in picking and packing operations. At Verner Wheelock we carry out SMETA ethical audits for a number of growers in the UK to ensure that decent working conditions, living conditions, pay, equality, and working hours are upheld. Recruitment for the ‘Feed the Nation’ initiative is via members of the Alliance of Ethical Labour Providers, so applicants can rest assured that the farms where they would be working meet the required standards.

In addition to receiving at least minimum wage and in many cases the National Living Wage (NLW), workers will receive free travel, health and dental care for the duration of their contract. They will also receive training for their role. This will include safe working practices in line with Government guidelines on social distancing, the wearing of appropriate PPE and should include food safety training.

Furloughed workers can now apply for farm jobs

The Government has recently announced that workers who are currently furloughed from their regular jobs because their employers have had to close due to coronavirus safeguarding, are eligible to apply to ‘Feed the Nation’ as long as their contracts allow it. Students are being encouraged to apply too. Anyone working on a farm will be classed as a key worker. This means they can travel to and from their place of work and their children can attend school.

Interested?

For more information of how to apply and help the British farming industry in this time of crisis, please visit any of the following sites:
Hops Labour Solution
British Summer Fruits
Asscciation of Labour Providers

Ethical Audits – What are they and why you need one

ethical award

As a produce grower or food processor, the chances are that your company will have undergone several third-party audits, often by BRC auditors or by the major retailers that you supply.  An audit is an inspection or examination of a process or system to ensure compliance with requirements.  It can apply to a specific process or can apply to nationally recognised standards.  An Ethical Audit assesses a company’s systems, its documentation and facilities against the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code, as well as local laws.

There have been numerous news reports about (often migrant) workers being treated unfairly by employers.  These are typically in clothing sweatshops, pick and pack organisations and factories with staff supplied by unscrupulous agencies or gang masters.  For obvious reasons retailers do not want to be associated with such activities.  Therefore, auditing each stage of their supply chain is a way of ensuring their suppliers are complying with ethical trading standards and fair employment practices.

What is covered in an Ethical Audit?

The ETI Base Code is designed to help protect workers from poor and unsafe working conditions, overwork, discrimination, low pay and forced working conditions.  It is founded on the conventions of the International Labour Organisation.  It is an internationally recognised code of labour practice.

So it is these main areas that interest the ethical auditor:

  • Wages
  • Working hours
  • Health & Safety
  • Temporary workers
  • Right to Work
  • Provision of breaks and rest days
  • Fair treatment of staff

Workers should be able to choose their employment

Employers need to make sure that their own employees and those of their suppliers are not being forced to work against their will.

Workers should be free to associate with others and bargain collectively

Essentially this means that workers should be able to air their views and opinions to managers without fear of reprisal or discrimination.  They should be allowed to join trade unions or stand for election onto a Works Council.

Workers should have safe and hygienic working conditions

Even a company that thinks it treats its workers well can come unstuck with Health & Safety.  It has the greatest number of non-conformances of all.  Aspects such as not having regular fire drills, blocking emergency exits, and lack of trained first aiders are commonplace.  Other common faults include lack of risk assessments for hazardous equipment and noise, or a lack of suitable Personal Protective Equipment.  If the toilet facilities are unsatisfactory or clean drinking water isn’t readily available employers will also be pulled up.

Child labour should not be used

Cases of child labour in the UK are extremely rare.  Nevertheless always check ID for verification of the age of young workers.  There are restrictions on rest breaks and the number of hours that can be worked by those under 18 in the UK.

Workers should earn a living wage

This is a big one.  Everyone is entitled to earn the National Minimum Wage.  It makes no difference whether you are paid weekly, monthly, by cheque in cash or any other way.  It doesn’t matter whether you work full-time, part time or any other working pattern.  Or whether you work at your employer’s own premises or elsewhere.  Neither does it matter what size your employer is, or where you work in the UK.

The National Minimum Wage is reviewed every year. From April 2018 it will be:

  • £7.38 per hour for those aged 21 and over
  • £5.90 per hour for 18 to 20-year-olds
  • £4.20 per hour for under 18s

Anyone aged 25 and over should not receive less than the National Living Wage rate of £7.83 per hour.

clockWorking hours must not be excessive

Studies show that when staff are required to work long hours for extensive periods of time without sufficient breaks, it is detrimental to their health and wellbeing.  Tired workers are less productive,  They are also liable to make more mistakes.  Consequently it is also in the employer’s interests to ensure that their employees have acceptable working hours.

This means that contracted working hours should not exceed 48 hours per week.

Total hours worked in any 7-day period should not exceed 60 hours unless in exceptional (unexpected) circumstances.

The 60 hours can be made up of normal hours and overtime.  So, if a worker’s contracted hours are 30 per week and they work an extra 30 hours, that extra work must be paid at ‘overtime rate’.  The ETI recommends that overtime premiums are at least 25% higher than the regular wage.

Employers also need to be responsible in asking workers to carry out overtime. This should not be on a regular basis. The employee should also have the right to say ‘no’, and overtime should not be required by contract.

Workers should also have at least one day (24 consecutive hours) off every 7 days, or two days off in 14.

Regular employment should be provided

All staff should have contracts and these should be held on file. It is not acceptable to send agency staff home on arrival at work if they are not required.  It’s recommended that companies using agency workers should have a minimum pay policy in place (e.g. 4 hours).  Thanks to the Agency Workers’ Directive Regulations, after 12 weeks’ continuous work in the same job, agency workers have the same basic working rights as permanent staff in the same role.

There must not be discrimination of any kind

Companies need to provide fair access to jobs.  That means no discrimination based on race, caste, national origin, gender, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation or union membership.  This extends to all aspects of the job – recruitment, access to training, compensation, promotion, termination or retirement.

Don’t allow  harsh or inhumane treatment

Employers and workers should not tolerate physical and verbal abuse or intimidation.  Neither should anyone put up with physical disciplining of staff, sexual  harassment or such things as refusing staff requests to use the toilet when on a shift.  There need to be systems in place for workers to report any harsh or unacceptable treatment.

Why do you need an ethical audit?

The most likely reason is that it may be a contractual requirement from your customer(s) to undergo regular ethical audits.  Some retailers insist that new suppliers have ethical audit before they can start a supply contract.  In addition, from a moral perspective nobody wants to be seen to be treating others unfairly.  those companies who are not required by their customers to have an ethical audit can still join Sedex and have an audit if they wish, and this demonstrates good practice.

The audit reports from SMETA (Sedex Members Ethical Trading Audit) Ethical Audits are shared on the Sedex platform so this provides a transparent system for sharing ethical audit results with customers.

All in all, it gives you peace of mind and is good for business, whether you happen to be a customer or supplier.

Where can I find out more about Ethical Audits?

To find out more about ethical audits and how to go about arranging one for your company, please visit the Ethical Audits section of our website.