Unite has received reports that more coronavirus outbreaks are suspected at meat processing factories and has warned that employers must do more to protect staff and the public from the disease.
The union called on employers to implement stringent health and safety protections, as well as to provide financial support to often low paid staff who need to self-isolate so that individuals are not forced to disregard their symptoms because of financial pressures.
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.”