Unite demands poultry plant closure after coronavirus fatality

Trades union Unite is demanding that a poultry processing plant in Northern Ireland be temporarily closed following the death of a worker from Covid-19.

The union said urgent action was needed by local government after worker Luciana Viviana da Silva died. It also pointed to other reported clusters of infections at poultry and meatpacking sites (see panel below).

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Sean McKeever, a regional officer for Unite, said: “This death is devastating news and we would like to extend our condolences to her friends and family.”

The union says the entire workforce at Moy Park’s Dungannon site, and their families, should be tested for coronavirus and assessed, with workers receiving full pay for the duration.

Mr McKeever alleged the company had not ensured proper social distancing on production lines in all its sites.

“The dreadful news that this female worker lost her life does not come as a huge surprise,” he said.

Safety measures

Moy Park offered its condolences to Ms Da Silva’s family but challenged Unite’s claims, highlighting the efforts it was going to in order to keep workers safe.

“Moy Park worked quickly with all key parties as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded,” a spokeswoman said. “We evolved our actions to create and implement bespoke solutions early on, with many of them now recognised as leading the way for food processors.”

Key measures included installing Perspex screens, social distancing in site restaurants and corridors, staggered break times, enhanced cleaning, additional PPE and incentive payments to all site-based staff, she said.

The company was also introducing thermal temperature scanning of all workers as they arrived on site.

“These are exactly the type of measures that government guidance is now calling for as other industries return to work,” the spokeswoman added.

Plant inspections

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) said it was carrying out unannounced inspections of businesses across Northern Ireland, with priority given to food processing companies.

“We can confirm that a recent unannounced inspection was carried out at a Moy Park meat processing plant,” a statement said.

“A few minor issues were found, but the overall compliance with the [Public Health Agency]  Covid-19 guidance was found to be of a high standard.”

Clusters found at other meat plants

Unite has pointed to clusters of coronavirus infections at other meatpacking sites, suggesting there have been at least seven Covid-19 cases at Linden Foods’ site outside Dungannon.

Regional organiser Davy Kettyles said: “Linden Foods’ management tell us that they are complying with the PHA guidelines, but the current guidelines are clearly not adequate to protect workers.

“We urgently need to see the Northern Ireland Executive establish a taskforce to tackle clusters and the enforcement of adequate infection control procedures for the entire food processing sector.”

Six weeks ago, a number of workers refused to start their shifts at Linden Foods’ Granville factory due to concerns around social distancing.

A statement from Linden Foods said it had already stepped up staff testing, and was implementing staggered working times and had installed protective screens.

“To date, we have received both positive and negative Covid-19 results and continue to reinforce our rigorous health and safety Covid-19 protocols,” it said in a statement.

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