Tag Archives: Bev Clarkson

Link between migrant worker exploitation and Covid-19 meat processing outbreaks ‘must be addressed’

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite said there is also a direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’ and the spread of the disease in such environments.

This is particularly true in meat processing factories that do not provide staff that need to self-isolate with company sick pay or any other form of financial support, as it increases the danger of individuals with Covid-19 going into work because they cannot afford to take time off.

The union also raised concerns about track and trace record keeping for agency workers, such as production line staff and cleaners, who often work at multiple sites and whose contact details may not be available or could be overlooked during infection control procedures.

Industry employment standards are also directly linked to overcrowded housing which are a contributing factor to the risk of outbreaks within factories.

A recent Unite survey, comprising of 20 per cent of the workforce at a Covid-19 impacted meat processing plant staffed overwhelmingly by migrant workers, found that 43 per cent of respondents live with two or more colleagues (at least three to a house) and 11 per cent live with five or more.

Nearly 65 per cent of the 150 respondents said they have attended work whilst unwell, with 69 per cent of those doing so because they could not afford to lose pay. Just 10 per cent of respondents said they have been tested for Covid-19.

Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Exploitation driven by corporate greed is a major factor in the public health emergencies amongst meat processing plants here and in other countries.

“Migrant workers, who often do not speak English and are scared to speak out because they fear losing their jobs, suffer under a relentless system that long predates Covid-19 in which they are treated without dignity or respect. Exploitation is so rife within the sector that Unite is also concerned that some workers are vulnerable to modern slavery. 

“This issue is now being brought to public attention because of its impact on the UK’s ability to stem the virus. People can see that the treatment of staff in the sector as disposable assets is unjust, unsustainable and a danger to public health. 

“As a priority, employers and government must end the terrible situation where workers are having to choose between self-isolating or going into work because they cannot afford to be ill. Unite also has concerns over whether employers are able to provide contact details for agency workers, who often work at multiple sites under murky employment structures, to facilitate track and trace efforts. 

“It is imperative that ministers and industry commit to a root and branch reform of the meat processing sector. The dire working conditions, low pay and insecure employment that blight the industry and have now come back to bite the nation’s efforts to defeat the coronavirus must be addressed.” 

Employers have ‘duty’ to safeguard staff and public as more meat factory coronavirus outbreaks ‘suspected

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.”   

2 Sisters Food Group announcement welcomed by Unite

Unite the union has cautiously welcomed the announcement today (Thursday 18 June) by the 2 Sisters Food Group that it is to temporarily close its chicken processing plant at Llangefni for a period of 14 days. This will allow all their employees at the site to self-isolate in an attempt to restrict the spread of Covid-19 amongst its Anglesey workforce and the wider community. The union has consistently been raising concerns around health and safety on site and the need for rigorous and robust procedures to combat spread of the virus.

Paddy McNaught, regional officer for Unite Wales, said: “Unite welcomes the company’s announcement regarding the closure, it is a common sense approach to a very difficult situation. We also welcome the commitment shown by the company to work with the relevant agencies to restrict the impact this outbreak on its workforce and wider community.

“Unite has also warned the company that it can’t ignore the financial impact such a decision will have on this group of low paid workers, who have strived to maintain the supply of chicken into the UK food chain throughout this pandemic. We are calling upon 2 Sisters to enter into urgent discussions with us around protecting its workforce’s income at this time of crisis.”

Bev Clarkson, Unite national officer for Food, Drink and Agriculture, said: “The relaxation of social distancing has been brought in too soon, we predicted a spike in the meat industry. You only have to look at what has happened in America and Germany to know that it would happen here. Measures need to be taken now by the government to stop further spikes within the sector.”

Sunday trading relaxation ‘grossly unfair’ to key workers

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

Unite the union, which represents thousands of workers in the retail sector, has described reports that the government is planning to relax Sunday trading laws as ‘grossly unfair’ to key workers and ignores the childcare challenges many face.

Unite national officer Bev Clarkson said: “Retail workers have played a key frontline role in keeping the UK fed and supplied in the last three months in highly challenging circumstances.

“They are exhausted and deserve to spend time with their families. Extending opening hours will simply exacerbate these problems.

“The government must understand that many retail workers have to work around childcare and by extending Sunday opening hours it will create additional stress and make it impossible for many workers to juggle work and their caring duties.”