Food production workers will not allow themselves to become the collateral damage of the Northern Ireland Executive’s failure to enforce infection control

Sean McKeeverNIFDA industry guidance is welcome but now must be converted into action in all workplaces
 
Unite Regional officer for the Food sector including employers such as Moy Park, Sean McKeever, welcomed the new industry guidance issued by the Northern Ireland Food & Drink Industry (NIFDA) today but called on employers to roll it out across all workplaces.
 
“Today’s NIFDA industry guidance only reflects that which was issued by the Public Health Agency at least a week ago on infection control measures for the food production sector – but nevertheless it is a welcome initiative. It must now be followed up by action from employers to make real workplace infection control protections for employees. 
 

“While some employers are now working with us, there are many who aren’t doing anything meaningful. Indeed, some are issuing public statements saying that they have measures in place to ensure social distancing within their factories but we have evidence that this is simply not the case. Guidance around social distancing, slowing down and simplifying production has not been implemented in many workplaces. 

“I
n most cases, significant health and safety improvements have only been achieved by workers’ collective organising through their trade unions so while improvements have been made in the likes of Moy Park and ABP Meats in Lurgan following walkouts, in ABP Meats in Newry management are refusing to engage with worker reps despite outstanding safety concerns. In Linden Foods, management are also refusing to engage and the Health & Safety Executive is refusing to act despite being provided photographic evidence of breaches. 

“We need to see today’s industry guidance extended to include 100 percent paid furlough for the duration of the peak threat to all vulnerable workers and those self-isolating. With exceptional demand – more than 50 percent higher than previous – bosses have the resources to ensure proper workplace protection. But any risk that a glut of production now could result in redundancies after the crisis will be ferociously resisted by workers who are playing a heroic role today.”

Turning to the total absence of any meaningful health and safety enforcement at this time of crisis, Mr McKeever demanded urgent action from the Northern Ireland Executive Ministers.

“Food and retail workers are now front line workers in the battle against the Covid-19 virus but are at risk of being sacrificed by our politicians. The Northern Ireland Executive’s shameful failure to bring forward any meaningful enforcement mechanisms whatsoever cannot be allowed to continue. The Health & Safety Executive is chronically under-resourced and under-staffed to deal with the scale of this challenge – they are no longer conducting inspections of workplaces – leaving workers to fend for themselves.

“Strong words are meaningless in the absence of action. The Northern Ireland Executive must now act to ensure workers’ safety in food production or else face the prospect of workers themselves acting to ensure their own safety. Workers won’t allow themselves to become the collateral damage for the Executive’s failure to enforce infection control”Mr McKeever said.

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