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Union's safety fears for coronavirus-hit Tyrone meat plant


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Concerns: Linden Foods

Concerns: Linden Foods

Concerns: Linden Foods

There have been at least seven Covid-19 cases at a Co Tyrone meat processing company, it has been claimed.

Trade union Unite said workers at Linden Foods outside Dungannon were "hugely concerned for their safety".

Concerns around social distancing at the Granville factory were first raised six weeks ago when a number of workers refused to start their shifts.

There were also walkouts at a number of meat processing plants in Co Armagh by workers worried over the same issue.

In a statement yesterday Unite said it was aware of a "growing number" of clusters of Covid-19 in the meatpacking industry, and called on the Executive to urgently introduce measures to tackle the problem.

Davy Kettyles, senior organiser for Unite, said that in the case of Linden Foods "we have repeatedly sought effective infection control measures to secure the health and safety of our members and called on the Health and Safety Executive on many occasions to conduct a physical inspection".

He added: "As yet, they have totally failed to conduct any such inspection.

"Now we understand from workers that at least seven Covid-19 cases have been confirmed at the Linden Foods site. The workers are hugely concerned for their safety.

"We are also hearing of similar reports at a number of other sites.

"This is hugely concerning. The absence of speedy action has led to a Covid-19 crisis in our care homes, now we are facing a similar outcome in the meatpacking sector.

"In the USA more than 10,000 meat workers have tested positive for Covid-19 with at least 45 fatalities.

"The situation in Brazil is reportedly even worse, but due to the absence of testing is unquantified. In the Republic we have seen outbreak control teams sent to deal with clusters, but the Northern Ireland Executive has done nothing.

"Linden Foods management tell us that they are complying with the Public Health Agency 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, in particular the meat sector."

Mr Kettyles said this must include the immediate roll-out of testing for all workers and their families, with a fast turnaround on results.

He added there should also be measures to stop the spread of the virus "up to and including the temporary closure of plants while testing is conducted with workers receiving full pay for the duration".

The Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) said that since the start of the pandemic it had been engaging with all sectors of the meat processing industry.

"HSENI can confirm that inspections have been conducted in food processing facilities over the past week and the organisation will continue its programme of unannounced inspections over the coming weeks and month," a statement said.

It added that HSENI continues to take the complaints raised by Unite, other unions and employees "very seriously" and "will consider the matters raised in the statement from Unite and work alongside our partners in government to provide a coordinated response".

The Belfast Telegraph contacted Linden Foods, the HSENI and the Department for the Economy for a response, but none had been received by the time of going to press.

However, in a statement issued at the end of March Linden Foods said it had implemented a range of measures across all its sites to provide a safe working environment.

These included doubling the size of canteens, erecting new handwashing units and changing facilities, staggering breaks, carrying out temperature checks, installing screens, re-spacing work areas and increasing personal protective equipment (PPE).

Belfast Telegraph