Bernard Matthews has suspended fares on company-subsidised buses to all of its sites to help prevent the spread of coronavirus through car sharing, following pressure from Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union.
The move came after the company said the Covid-19 outbreak at its site in Holton, Suffolk, could be linked to low paid workers car sharing.
In response Unite said Bernard Matthews had ‘actively encouraged’ the practice by nearly doubling the fare of its company-run buses in August from £3.50 to £6.
While welcoming the move, Unite said more clarity was needed from Bernard Matthews on how long the fares will be cancelled for, after the company said the decision will be ‘continually reviewed’.
Minimum wage Bernard Matthews’ workers have expressed concerns that they are not willing to give up spaces in shared cars to remote sites unless they know they can rely on affordable transport.
The company has also suspended the planned cancellation of a subsidised bus route to Great Witchingham in Norfolk on October 12, however it is not known how long the route will run for. Unite is calling for the plans to cancel the service to be scrapped.
Unite also reiterated its concerns about the company paying self-isolating workers Statutory Sick Pay, which leaves low paid staff facing the stark choice of working while potentially infected or being unable to pay for food, rent or other bills.
Unite regional officer Mark Jaina said, “Unite welcomes Bernard Matthews’ suspension of fares on worker buses to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. This decision was the result of collective pressure from Holton and Great Witchingham staff standing together in a union.
“Without guarantees on the length of the fare suspension or a return to an affordable charge, however, many workers will be unwilling to gamble their place in a car share to sites not accessible by public transport.
“As part of Ranjit Singh Boparan’s billion-pound food business empire, Bernard Matthews should also be providing low paid staff with enough sick pay to self-isolate. Not to do so increases the risk of further outbreaks at Bernard Matthews and in the community.”