Key workers stage mass walk-out over inadequate coronavirus distancing

This article is reprinted from Metro news:

Around 100 workers at one of Northern Ireland’s main poultry manufacturers have walked out over concerns their employer has not taken proper steps to protect them from coronavirus.

Regional officer for Unite Sean McKeever said there had been a mass departure at Moy Park in Portadown, Co Armagh. The union said it had attempted to secure commitments to ensure a minimum two-metre social distancing between people in the workplace to prevent people passing on Covid-19.

Mr McKeever said: ‘We need to see immediate movement from managment to address the workers’ legitimate fears over coronavirus transmission. Workers are refusing to return to work in unsafe conditions. This is an entirely foreseeable outcome of both management greed and total inaction from Stormont.’

Moy Park says it is one of the UK’s top 15 food companies and Northern Ireland’s largest private sector business and major chicken producer. Food production is classed an essential service during the outbreak but they must still follow strict social-distancing guidelines set out by the Government.

Meanwhile around 80 employees of meat supplier ABP have walked out of a site in nearby Lurgan, also over Covid-19 concerns.

Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald called for all non-essential factories to close, warning government inaction could ‘cost lives’.

She added: ‘Unite has been informed that the workers are demanding adequate social distancing of two metres be facilitated and enforced and other measures be adopted to keep workers as separated as possible and deep-cleans are conducted on work stations where workers have self-isolated with coronavirus symptoms.

‘There must be a full lock-down of non-essential companies and where workers are deemed essential every possible measure should be taken and enforced to protect them – or else they shouldn’t be there.’

Official advice has changed rapidly over recent days as the virus has spread and companies large and small have had to react quickly.

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd said: ‘Where essential services need to remain open, the safety of workers and their families is paramount.

‘Owners and management of those essential service companies who still have staff on production lines need to acknowledge the dangers of Covid-19.

‘They need to act responsibly by ensuring physical distance measures are in place and that steps are taken to protect these essential workers.

‘Statutory bodies with responsibility for health and safety need to take action to make sure those businesses which remain open are not placing any of their workers or their families at risk.’

A spokesperson for Moy Park said: ‘The health and wellbeing of our team is our most important consideration and we have put new, robust measures in place to keep them safe.

‘We have thoroughly reviewed our sites and continue to take on board feedback from our team members. We had already identified seven areas to enhance social distancing. These measures include staggering breaks, respacing workstations and communal areas, as well as installing screens on appropriate production lines.

‘We also continue to make provisions for those who can work from home to do so using remote technology as well as increased cleaning and the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). We are continually reviewing the situation and taking additional steps where necessary.

‘Our teams are playing a vital role in keeping food production moving and feeding the nation. We are committed to ensuring they are safe and well to keep providing these essential food products.’

The spokesperson said staff went back to work 15 minutes after staging their protest.

Last night Northern Ireland’s department of health said five people have been killed by the airborne virus while the number of confirmed cases in the region stands at 172.

Today on Good Morning Britain the UK Government was accused of ‘putting money above lives’ by telling workers they could travel to work if it was not possible for them to work from home, provided their employers follow health guidelines.

The Government has been confused of sending mixed messages as Boris Johnson previously said commutes should only be made by ‘key workers’ or if it is ‘absolutely necessary’ to do so.

The Prime Minister has been urged to be clearer on who should be going to work after pictures of crowded building sites emerged less than 24 hours after he announced a national lockdown.

James Hockaday writes for Metro news.

Featured image credit: Photopress