‘They are putting people at risk’
Meat processing workers treated like ‘the Expendables’
Reading time: 4 min
When meat processing worker ‘Alex’ tested positive for coronavirus, he was forced to stay off work for a number of weeks, along with the colleagues he shares a house with.
The housemates were given no support by their company and were expected to survive on statutory sick pay.
“That’s £94 a week. Our rent is around £90 a week for a room,” Alex told the Mirror.
“The company did nothing to help people who might be experiencing hardship. We just had to try our best to survive on £4 a week.
“Friends helped with food. All the company is bothered about is that we can produce, and their profit.
“People have been in hospital for three weeks with Covid, and the company has paid them nothing.”
Alex, who came to the UK from Romania, is now back at work and ‘standing shoulder to shoulder’ with other staff. The company has only recently begun handing out visors and promised perspex screens to separate workers have still not been installed.
“They are putting people at risk,” explained Alex.
Some staff are also facing the stark choice of working when they should be self-isolating or not putting food on the table.
“Loss of taste and smell is a symptom, but people are still going into work with that – because they are too afraid to lose the money, to slip into hardship,” he said.
“We get £280 a week so it is impossible to save. No one can afford to lose their job.
“About three-quarters of the people here are foreigners so they are scared to lose their jobs.”
Similar issues were reported at another meat processing factory with a Covid-19 outbreak.
A recent Unite survey of staff at the factory found that 64.5 per cent of staff had gone into work while sick, with 69 per cent of those doing so because they couldn’t afford to lose pay.
“Some people are coming in sick at work because they can’t afford to lose money,” one worker told the union.
Another said, “Furloughed staff receive 80 per cent of their salary, yet if we go to work as ‘key workers’ and become sick we only get £94 a week. That doesn’t sound like being a key worker it sounds like we’re The Expendables.”
Workers also reported that health and safety concerns were not being taken seriously by the factory’s management.
One said, “We didn’t have soaps or hand sanitiser for more than two months and they still forced us to keep working.”
“There’s nothing being done to keep social distance on the shop floor,” another reported.
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture Bev Clarkson said: “Exploitation driven by corporate greed is a major factor in the public health emergencies amongst meat processing plants here and in other countries.
“There is a real danger, however, that migrant workers – many of whom simply cannot afford to be ill because their employers refuse adequate sick pay – will prove to be an easy target for those looking to shift the blame elsewhere.
“Employers must not be allowed to escape responsibility for the dire working conditions, low pay and insecure employment that blight the meat processing industry, and which have now come back to bite the nation’s efforts to defeat the coronavirus.”
By Ryan Fletcher