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Meat factory workers have walked out of a site in Northern Ireland over coronavirus concerns, according to reports.

Trade union Unite says up to 1,000 workers left Moy Park’s Portadown chicken processing plant due to worries around social distancing and safety yesterday (March 25).

There is some discrepancy over exactly what happened, as Moy Park says it was just 100 workers, and they only left for 15 minutes.

‘Failure to protect its workforce’

Unite regional officer Sean McKeever accused Moy Park – the biggest employer in Northern Ireland – of failing to provide basic health and safety protections to its workforce.?

He added: “Unite attempted to secure commitments to ensure a minimum two-meter social distancing between workers and other measures to enable infection control in the face of the coronavirus threat but our proposals were dismissed by management.

“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.”

‘Health and wellbeing’

A spokesperson for Moy Park described the health and well-being of workers as ‘our most important consideration’, adding that ‘new, robust measures’ have been put in place to keep them safe.

They added: “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. We also continue to make provisions for those who can work from home to do so using remote technology as well as increased cleaning and the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

“We are continually reviewing the situation and taking additional steps where necessary. Our teams are playing a vital role in keeping food production moving and feeding the nation. We are committed to ensuring they are safe and well to keep providing these essential food products.”

Maria Chiorando

Maria is the editor of Plant Based News. As a former magazine editor, newspaper reporter, and features writer, her work has been published by The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and various regional newspapers, as well as Vegan Life magazine and Vegan Trade Journal. She has interviewed a huge range of people, from Prime Ministers to authors, activists, pop stars and actors, and enjoys the varied range of topics writing for PBN allows her to tackle.