Urgent action needed from Stormont Executive on meat processing sector to avoid repeat of crisis and fatalities in care home sector
If necessary, sites must be temporarily shut for testing of workers, and family members, with full pay to enable safe reopening
Jackie Pollock, Regional Secretary for Unite, wrote to the First Minister and deputy First Minister to demand urgent action from the Northern Ireland Executive as Covid-19 clusters emerged in poultry and meat industry sites across the region.
“It is now confirmed that a member of our union working in Moy Park in Dungannon died of Covid-19. It is right that we pay tribute to her memory and extend our condolences to her friends and family. We need to see immediate action in light of this news and the emerging Covid-19 clusters which are emerging at poultry and meatpacking sites.
“We cannot allow a crisis to develop in the sector such as has been witnessed in the USA where more than 10,000 workers have contracted the virus, with scores dead, or in Brazil where the number afflicted remains unknown due to the inadequacy of testing. We cannot allow political inaction to lead to a needless repetition of the Covid-19 crisis afflicting our care home sector.
“The high-risk nature of the poultry and meatpacking sector has been widely recognised for some time and makes all the worse the abject failure to roll-out a comprehensive programme of testing for those working in this sector. The absence of extensive testing among all essential workers has been a key factor leading to this growing crisis, a crisis which is already spilling over into the local communities from which these workers come.
“Since the inception of this pandemic, Unite has repeatedly called on employers and the HSE to enforce effective infection control measures. In that context, we are very concerned at the failure of HSENI to conduct responsive physical inspections – including to date at some locations where clusters have been reported. While employers tell us that they are complying with the PHA guidance, workers are still contracting this virus. The current guidance and enforcement mechanisms are clearly inadequate to preserve the health and safety of workers; indeed their weakness effectively makes infection controls optional to employers.
“I have written today to both Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill, in their capacity as Executive Office Ministers, to bring forward a programme of mass testing and the establishment of a sectoral taskforce to deal with workplace infection control in the poultry and meat processing sector.
“Measures must include, where necessary, the enforced temporary closure of sites with clusters for testing of workers and their family members, with workers provided full-pay compensation to stay at home and save lives before the results come back enabling reopening. Given the experience to date there must be a role in that process. There can be room for failure to act in the face of this threat to workers”, Mr Pollock concluded.