Staff have walked out of Northern Ireland’s largest poultry processing firm over coronavirus safety concerns, a union has said.
Up to “one thousand” workers walked out of Moy Park’s site in Portadown, according to Unite, who said the company failed to enforce social distancing, and other measures to protect staff from infection in the face of the Covid-19 outbreak.
The union said it attempted to secure commitment from bosses of a minimum two-metre distance between workers, but the proposal was rejected, which prompted the walkout.
Unite regional officer Sean McKeever said: “Workers are refusing to return to work in unsafe conditions. This is an entirely foreseeable outcome of both management greed and total inaction from Stormont.
“We need to see immediate movement from management to address the workers’ legitimate fears over coronavirus transmission – there cannot be any two-tier approach to health and safety in workplaces.
“Food production workers will not be treated as second-class.”
A spokesperson for Moy Park said only 100 staff walked out and then returned to work after 15 minutes.
The company said in a statement: “The health and wellbeing of our team is our most important consideration and we have put new, robust measures in place to keep them safe.
“We have thoroughly reviewed our sites and continue to take on board feedback from our team members. We had already identified 7 areas to enhance social distancing.
“These measures include staggering breaks, re-spacing workstations and communal areas, as well as installing screens on appropriate production lines.”
The poultry processor is the largest meat producer in Northern Ireland, with operations in Great Britain, France, the Republic of Ireland and the Netherlands.
Elsewhere, 80 employees at ABP Meats in Lurgan, who are deemed “essential”, refused to work over fears for their safety.
Unite said the workers are demanding that adequate social distancing is enforced and other measures such as deep-cleans are taken to protect staff at work stations used by those who have self-isolated with coronavirus symptoms.
Unite regional coordinating officer Susan Fitzgerald said where workers are deemed essential, every possible measure should be taken and enforced to protect them.
Farmers Weekly has contacted ABP Food Group for comment.