‘Inadequate’ sick pay and worker bus fare rises at the coronavirus-hit Bernard Matthews’ turkey processing factory in Suffolk increase the risk of further Covid-19 transmissions, Unite said today (Wednesday 30 September).
The company, which was taken over by the owner of poultry giant 2 Sisters, Ranjit Boparan, in 2016, has informed Unite that minimum wage workers at the Holton plant who need to self-isolate will only receive statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 a week.
Bernard Matthews has also stated that the outbreak may be linked to workers car sharing. In response, Unite said that since August the company had ‘actively encouraged’ car sharing by nearly doubling the fares of its company-run buses to the site from £3.50 to £6 a day.
The union said that ‘Bernard Matthews is part of Ranjit Boparan’s billion-pound business empire, but its penny pinching is putting the health of its workers and the public at risk’.
Unite has consistently warned Mr Boparan’s 2 Sisters, which has suffered a number of outbreaks at sites across the country, and other food manufacturers, that only paying SSP leaves low paid staff facing the ‘stark choice of working while potentially infected or being unable to pay for food, rent or other bills’.
The most recent of example of this happening was at Chesterfield Poultry owned Banham Poultry in Norfolk, where workers told the BBC that symptomatic staff had turned up for work because they could not afford to live on SSP.
The union said that Bernard Matthews should not leave workers at the mercy of local authority or central government emergency support, when many staff would not be eligible because they do not claim benefits or have dependent children.
Last week, before the outbreak was discovered, Unite criticised the company’s decision in August to increase its Holton transport fares from £3.50 a day to £6.00 a day and cancel the staff bus to its Great Witchingham site in Norfolk from October.
Unite regional officer Mark Jaina said, “Bernard Matthews is part of Ranjit Boparan’s billion-pound business empire, but its penny pinching is putting the health of its workers and the public at risk. Bernard Matthews has millions at its disposal, but pays the workforce a pittance and provides inadequate sick pay.
“There is no need for their workers to be put in a position where they are faced with the stark choice of either working while potentially infected or being unable to pay for food, rent or other bills. It is simply not enough to leave their most vulnerable staff to the mercies of emergency local authority or government assistance, which many will not qualify for anyway.
“The coronavirus is with us for the foreseeable future and Bernard Matthews risks further outbreaks if staff are not provided with the financial resources they need to self-isolate. Bernard Matthews has also cited car sharing as a potential source of transmission, yet the company has actively encouraged it by nearly doubling fares on their worker buses.
“Providing adequate sick pay for self-isolating workers and cancelling the rise in bus fares are not only the right thing to do for Bernard Matthews’ workforce, they are also the right thing to do for public health.”
By Ryan Fletcher