Unite the Union has called on employers to do more to improve safety measures, following several COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants.
The UK’s largest union, Unite, has responded to the worrying number of COVID-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants, calling on employers to take action to improve social distancing and hygiene measures to protect employees.
The intervention came as it was revealed that 150 workers have tested positive for coronavirus at the 2 Sisters Food Group factory in Llangefni, Anglesey.
The outbreak was first reported last Wednesday (16 June), when the number of infected was 51. Since then, Public Health Wales has said 400 workers have been tested and there are now 158 confirmed COVID-19 cases. The factory has now been closed for two weeks, as have other meat processing plants – Rowan Foods, in Wrexham and an Asda meat factory in West Yorkshire.
The outbreaks come after weeks of warnings from trade unions that not enough has been done at food factories to ensure social distancing.
Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said:
Unite has warned time and again that coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories throughout the UK were likely. The union has been in touch with the management of all three closed factories to insist that staff only return to work when it is safe to do so and when further outbreaks can be prevented. Unfortunately, we are also aware of suspected Covid-19 outbreaks at other sites across the UK.
While it is true that there are difficulties in maintaining staff distancing at many sites, this is no excuse – especially since similar outbreaks in the US and other countries have been widely reported on.
Employers must work with Unite to implement proper social distancing, cleaning and hygiene measures, as well as personal protective equipment provision where necessary. The health and safety of staff must always come first, but it is clear that in the meat processing industry there are still major issues to be overcome.
It is also important to note that it is not just failing health and safety regimes contributing to the risk of outbreaks at meat processing factories. Far too many staff are living hand to mouth on low wages and poor employment contracts. Many employers are refusing to provide any financial support for those presenting with symptoms, so it is inevitable that some staff will simply hope they don’t have it and go into work. Employers have a duty to treat their staff better and stop the spread of the disease.
As well as the outbreaks in the UK, there have been several high-profile outbreaks of COVID-19 in meat factories across the world.
The coronavirus “R” number in Germany has leapt to 2.88 in recent days, mostly driven by an outbreak at a meat processing facility in Gütersloh in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) which has forced over 7,000 people into quarantine.
The US has been hardest hit, with outbreaks linked to more than 180 meat and processed food plants. But other countries with highly consolidated meat supply chains – Ireland, Spain, Australia, Brazil and Canada – are also struggling.