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Staff at Moy Park walk out in dispute over coronavirus safety fears

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A worker walks out at Moy Park in Portadown yesterday. Around 100 of the firm’s 1,000 workforce left

A worker walks out at Moy Park in Portadown yesterday. Around 100 of the firm’s 1,000 workforce left

ABP Food Group workers in Lurgan walked out over safety conditions

ABP Food Group workers in Lurgan walked out over safety conditions

A worker walks out at Moy Park in Portadown yesterday. Around 100 of the firm’s 1,000 workforce left

Workers at Northern Ireland's biggest private sector employer walked out yesterday after a dispute over measures in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Around 100 out of 1,000 workers at the Seagoe, Portadown, site of Moy Park walked out. Trade union Unite said it took place after the company failed to agree union proposals for safer working.

With a total workforce of 13,000 across the UK, France and The Netherlands, Moy Park is Northern Ireland's biggest private sector employer and one of the UK's biggest poultry processors.

Meanwhile, 80 workers at meat processor ABP also walked out in a row over conditions in its Lurgan factory.

A spokeswoman later said: "The safety and wellbeing of our colleagues is paramount and the company has introduced a variety of additional measures at all sites in recent weeks in response to Covid-19... the company is taking guidance from the relevant public health authorities and is continually reviewing the situation to take additional steps where necessary."

Businesses such as food factories have been allowed to stay open because they provide an essential service.

A spokeswoman for Moy Park said: "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 had already identified seven 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)."

Angela McGowan, the Northern Ireland director of employers' body the CBI, said businesses were trying to do the right thing.

"Many firms in critical sectors have implemented huge changes in the workforce to keep their employees safe, while simultaneously ensuring that essential products and services keep flowing...

"Both businesses and people must make every effort to follow social distancing guidance in very difficult circumstances."

One person raised concerns about generator manufacturer Caterpillar's Larne site and its adherence to social distancing.

It is understood Caterpillar's work in making generators for organisations including hospitals qualifies it as an essential business which can remain open.

A spokesman for Caterpillar said: "Caterpillar continues to operate its Larne facility while adhering to government guidance. Our employees' safety, health and wellbeing remain a top priority."

One man at a smaller firm claimed he had requested paid leave as his own health - and that of a family member - placed them both in 'at risk' categories. However, the employee was refused paid leave, including payment at 80% of salary as per the government's employee retention scheme.

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