Meat plant deep clean after new Covid cluster found
Workers must be assured of no financial loss says Unite
After 35 staff tested positive for the virus the pork meat processing plant will now close for a deep clean this weekend. It’s understood testing and tracing will take place among the 500 employees to prevent any spread of the virus among the community.
NI health minister Robin Swann described the outbreak as “significant” adding that 35 staff members have tested positive – as have a number of their contacts.
A company spokesperson said, “There has been a recent increase in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Ballymena and the wider region and this has been acknowledged as a community issue.
“As a result of this, we can confirm that a number of colleagues at our Ballymena site have tested positive for Covid-19.
“Working with the Public Health Authority (PHA), we have taken the decision to send all of our colleagues for testing. If the test results are positive, the individual will be required to self-isolate for 10 days; if the test results are negative, the individual will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.”
The company added that the health and safety of all staff “has always been our number one priority and we have done everything we can to protect our Ballymena team.”
The company says it has implemented measures to protect staff. These have included social distancing, recommended PPE for all employees and taking additional cleaning and hygiene measures across the site.
It said, “Throughout this period, we have worked closely with the regulatory agencies, including the public health agency (PHA) and others who have approved the action plan in place at the site.”
The public health agency confirmed that it has made a “number of significant recommendations to a business in the mid and East Antrim council area where a cluster of Covid-19 has been identified.
“These include testing of all staff this week and self-isolation of staff identified as close contacts of cases,” the PHA said in a statement.
It added that the agency is working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and local authorities to manage the situation and protect the workforce and wider community.
“Testing and contact tracing is being conducted to identify staff who may be potentially affected to help prevent any further spread within the community,” the PHA confirmed.
Unite regional officer Liam Gallagher said he was seeking assurances from management.
“One of the best ways for the sector to address the spread of Covid-19 in meat plants would be to assure all workers that they will suffer no financial loss if they report symptoms or self-isolate,” said Gallagher.
He added, “Workers must also be confident that they can report breaches of health and safety without suffering any detriment. This pandemic demonstrated that decent treatment of workers is not only socially and economically necessary: it is also a public health necessity.”
The plant is based in an area (Mid and East Antrim) which has seen a spike in community cases in the past week, with 80 new cases.
Sadly a number of outbreaks have now happened at food processing plants, with Unite demanding back in June that action must be taken as soon as possible to curb a spike of cases in the sector.
“Unite has warned time and again that coronavirus outbreaks at meat processing factories throughout the UK were likely,” said Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture Bev Clarkson.
Bev explains that in all cases where factories have been forced to close Unite has insisted that “staff only return to work when it is safe to do so and when further outbreaks can be prevented.”
She adds that “While it is true that there are difficulties in maintaining staff distancing at many sites, this is no excuse – especially since similar outbreaks in the UK and other countries have been widely reported on.”
On this case Clarkson reiterated, “Employers must work with Unite to implement proper social distancing, cleaning and hygiene measures, as well as personal protective equipment provision where necessary.
“The health and safety of staff must always come first, but it is clear that in the meat processing industry – as we sadly continue to see – there are still major issues to be overcome.
“It is also important to note that it is not just failing health and safety regimes contributing to the risk of outbreaks at meat processing factories,” Clarkson went on to say. “Far too many staff are living hand to mouth on low wages and poor employment contracts. Many employers are refusing to provide any financial support for those presenting with symptoms, so it is inevitable that some staff will simply hope they don’t have it and go into work. Employers have a duty to treat their staff better and stop the spread of the disease.”
- Picture is not of the Cranswick plant – added for illustration purposes only
By UNITElive team