COVID-19 crisis exposes poor treatment of essential workers supplying major supermarkets

Unite, Britain’s leading union, is calling on Pioneer Foods, a multimillion pound food manufacturer, to get its act together over pay and sickness.

Pioneer Foods manufactures cereals, for leading supermarkets including; Aldi, Asda, M&S, Sainsburys and Morrisons.

The South African owned company has a turnover of over £71 million in the UK according to its latest accounts.

However, most workers at its Peterborough and Wellingborough sites normally earn the minimum wage and are only entitled to the government’s statutory sick pay scheme.

The company temporarily increased its production workers’ pay by £1 an hour during the health crisis but Unite is demanding that this increase should be made permanent. Essential workers should be able to afford the essentials.

Unite is also demanding that Pioneer Foods introduces a proper sick pay scheme which gives workers full sick pay from day one. The union has received reports of production workers alleging they are having to use their holiday entitlements while off sick.

Unite regional officer Adam Oakes said: “Pioneer Foods is a multimillion pound company which is paying essential workers a pittance. The current COVID-19 crisis is exposing how essential workers crucial to the supply and production of food have been underpaid and poorly treated for too long. 

“Earning around the minimum wage is not good enough. Allegations that some workers are using holiday entitlements to cover their costs while off sick is a serious concern, particularly in the current circumstances.

“Essential workers must be able to afford life’s essentials, like putting food on the table and paying the bills. They also need a proper sick pay scheme from day one or when a worker must self-isolate. The temporary pay increase for workers at Pioneer Foods must now be made permanent.”

Workers have already sent the company ‘letters of concern’ which have led to improvements including; new hand washing stations, metal screens between packers, visual marks for social distancing as well as more space for workers to have lunch while keeping an acceptable social distance.

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