A programme of mass testing is needed across Northern Ireland’s poultry and meat industry sites following the death of a worker at a food processing plant, a union has said.
Luciana Viviana da Silva (58), who worked at Moy Park’s Dungannon site, died from coronavirus.
Unite the Union has written to the First and Deputy First Ministers to demand testing for workers in the poultry and meatpacking sector.
The union said urgent action is needed by Stormont after reports of clusters of infection at a growing number of sites.
Unite said it was aware of a number of cases among workers at Linden Foods in Dungannon, as well as the death of Ms da Silva (58), originally from East Timor.
They have called for workers to be retained on full pay while one of the firm’s sites is shut down to allow the workforce and their families to be tested if necessary - and for the Health and Safety Executive (HSENI) to conduct physical inspections of meat processing sites to assess infection controls.
A HSENI spokesperson said: "HSENI sympathises with the family and friends of the Moy Park employee who has tragically passed away. Discussions are currently ongoing with the employer to understand the circumstances.
"HSENI is currently carrying out unannounced inspections to businesses across Northern Ireland. Priority is being given to sectors such as food processing companies and sites where repeated complaints have been received.
"We can confirm that a recent unannounced inspection was carried out at a Moy Park meat processing plant. A few minor issues were found but the overall compliance with the PHA COVID-19 guidance was found to be of a high standard. This approach will continue."
The spokesperson said employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment for their staff and that if employees or unions have concerns they should contact HSENI email@example.com or 0800 0320 121.
Moy Park has been approached for comment.
In a statement to the BBC, Linden said since agri-food workers had been approved for government testing, it had insisted that any staff showing symptoms to avail of the measure.
“To date, we have received both positive and negative Covid-19 results and continue to reinforce our rigorous health and safety Covid-19 protocols,” a spokesperson said.
“We report all Covid-19 related absences to the designated government agency.”
Regional Secretary at Unite Jackie Pollock said Ms da Silva, who was also living in Dungannon, was a member of Unite.
She was East Timor’s first death as a result of the virus and was also known as Anoy Soriano.
“It is right that we pay tribute to her memory and extend our condolences to her friends and family,” Mr Pollock said.
“We need to see immediate action in light of this news and the emerging Covid-19 clusters which are emerging at poultry and meatpacking sites.”
Mr Pollock called for Stormont to protect against crises such as those seen in the poultry and meatpacking sector in the USA and Brazil.
He added: “The high-risk nature of the poultry and meatpacking sector has been widely recognised for some time and makes all the worse the abject failure to roll-out a comprehensive programme of testing for those working in this sector.
“The absence of extensive testing among all essential workers has been a key factor leading to this growing crisis, a crisis which is already spilling over into the local communities from which these workers come.”
Mr Pollock said Unite is concerned that workers are still contracting the virus. He claimed current guidance and enforcement measures are not going far enough to protect their health and safety.
Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew called for employers to ensure that workers are given full and adequate protection in the workplace.
She said: “All employers have responsibilities to ensure appropriate and stringent measures are in place to minimise the spread of Covid-19.
“I will be contacting the Minister for Economy, the Health and Safety Executive and both companies’ management to seek clarification following today’s news,” she said.
“We must ensure that we do all that we can to protect these workers in the time ahead.”