Covid-19 clusters in Northern Ireland meatpacking sector point to urgent need for sector-specific infection controls to protect workers

DKImmediate programme of testing with quick turnaround needed for all meatpacking workers and their families along with wider package of measures including, where necessary, temporary closures for deep-cleanses without loss of pay

Fears that meatpacking sites here could experience outbreaks similar to those in USA and Brazil where tens of thousands of workers have caught Covid-19 and scores have died

Davy Kettyles, Lead Regional Organiser for Unite, is calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to bring forward, as a matter of urgency, a suite of measures to tackle the growing number of clusters of Covid-19 cases across the meatpacking industry. The call came as workers at Linden Foods’ site at Granville in Dungannon, where Unite’s Organising Department is actively working to secure workplace protections, reported a growing number of confirmed cases including among the union’s membership.

“Unite has been working to collectively organise workers in meatpacking sites in Northern Ireland and is aware of a growing number of clusters of Covid-19 infections in the sector. In the case of Linden Foods in Granville, Dungannon, we have repeatedly sought effective infection control measures to secure the health and safety of our members and called on the HSE on many occasions to conduct a physical inspection. As yet they have totally failed to conduct any such inspection. 

“Now we understand from workers that at least seven Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at the Linden Foods site. The workers are hugely concerned for their safety. We are also hearing of similar reports at a number of other sites. 

“This is hugely concerning. The absence of speedy action has led to a Covid-19 crisis in our care homes – now we are facing a similar outcome in the meatpacking sector. In the USA, more than ten thousand meat workers have tested positive for Covid-19 with at least 45 fatalities – the situation in Brazil is reportedly even worse but due to the absence of testing is unquantified. In the Republic, we have seen outbreak control teams sent to deal with clusters but the Northern Ireland Executive has done nothing.

“Linden Foods management tell us that they are complying with the PHA guidelines but the current guidelines are clearly not adequate to protect workers. We urgently need to see the Northern Ireland Executive establish a taskforce to tackle clusters and the enforcement of adequate infection control procedures for the entire food processing sector, in particular the meat sector. 

“This must include, at a minimum, measures such as the immediate roll-out of testing for all workers in this sector, and their families, with a swift turnaround on results, and immediate measures to stop the spread up to and including the temporary closure of plants while testing is conducted with workers receiving full pay for the duration”, Mr Kettyles said.

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