‘Afraid to take sick leave’

Unite warns Norfolk’s Banham Poultry refusal to provide company sick pay risks another outbreak

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Low paid staff at a Norfolk chicken factory at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak went to work with symptoms because “people were afraid to take sick leave, because sick pay is so low”, according to reports.  

Banham Poultry in Attleborough was partially closed last month when nearly 130 staff tested positive for Covid-19. Despite this the company is still refusing to provide adequate sick pay to workers who need to self-isolate, a move Unite says increases the risk of another outbreak.  

Public health officials have stated that the factory followed guidelines, however three members of staff told the BBC that symptomatic staff had turned up for work because they could not afford to live on £95.85 statutory sick pay.  

Speaking on condition of anonymity the workers said staff would “struggle” to live on SSP with one stating that “people were afraid to take sick leave, because sick pay is so low”. 

Although conditions within refrigerated meat processing factories have been cited as a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, Unite has warned for months that 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.  

Following pressure from Unite a number of food processing companies have changed their sick pay policies during the pandemic, including 2 Sisters in LlangefniRowan Foods in Wrexham and Bakkavor in Newark

Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard said, “Food processing employers that poor pay combined with a lack of company sick pay risks staff having to choose between self-isolating or hoping for the best and going into work because they cannot afford to be ill. 

“Refusing to provide adequate sick pay is unjust in any circumstances, but particularly so during a pandemic.” 

Yesterday (10 September) the TUC warned the government that NHS Test and Trace system risks failure unless ministers boost SSP and ensure everyone is eligible for it.  

The warning comes as new polling reveals that more than 4 in 10 workers would be plunged into financial hardship if forced to self-isolate for two weeks on SSP. 

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said, “Employers must do their civic duty and make sure workers can self-isolate on full pay. But where bosses can’t or won’t the government must step in.”

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