1,000 key workers at poultry factory walk out over social distancing

Up to 1,000 ‘key workers’ at poultry factory in Northern Ireland walk out over claims bosses are failing to ensure 6ft social distancing gap between staff amid coronavirus crisis

  • Staff at Moy Park in Portadown, Co Armagh refused to carry on work today 
  • Came after 80 staff at ABP meat production in nearby Lurgan also walked out 
  • Key workers at food production plant desperately needed during UK lockdown 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

One thousand ‘key workers’ at a poultry factory in Northern Ireland have staged a mass walk out over claims their bosses are not observing social distancing rules.

Staff at Moy Park in Portadown, County Armagh went on strike today because they were unable to stay six feet apart from one another.  

Union bosses said the demonstration at Moy Park, which is one of Northern Ireland’s biggest employers and a major chicken producer in the region, lasted 15 minutes and involved around 1,000 people. 

They claim workers feel they are being treated as ‘second class citizens’ by being exposed to greater risk of catching coronavirus.

The Moy Park walkout came hours after 80 employees at ABP Meats in nearby Lurgan refused to continue working for the same reason. 

So far there have been 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Northern Ireland.  

Up to 1,000 ‘key workers’ at Moy Park poultry factory in County Armagh, Northern Ireland have staged a mass walk out over claims their bosses are not observing social distancing rules

Union bosses said the demonstration at Moy Park in Portadown lasted for 15 minutes and involved as many as 1,000 workers

Sean McKeever, Unite Regional Officer, said of the poultry worker protest: ‘We need to see immediate movement… to address the workers’ legitimate fears over coronavirus transmission.’ 

The UK Government has stressed that food production is an essential service during the outbreak.

Employees have ‘key worker’ status, which means they can continue doing their jobs because people are relying on them for food.  

But official advice for those in food production has changed rapidly over recent days as the virus has spread and companies large and small have had to react quickly.

A Moy Park spokesman 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 have thoroughly reviewed our sites and continue to take on board feedback from our team members. 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.

‘We are continually reviewing the situation and taking additional steps where necessary.’

The Moy Park walkout came hours after 80 employees at ABP Meats in nearby Lurgan (pictured today) refused to continue working for the same reason

ABP Meats in Lurgan, County Armagh also staged a walkout of around 80 employees today 

The firm said its teams are playing a vital role in keeping food production moving.

It added: ‘We are committed to ensuring they are safe and well to keep providing these essential food products.’ 

Susan Fitzgerald, Unite regional co-ordinating officer, urged the Government to act to protect workers at ABP Meats as well. 

She said: ‘Approximately 80 employees at ABP Meats in Lurgan who are deemed essential refused work today over fears for their safety.

‘Unite has been informed that the workers are demanding adequate social distancing of two metres be facilitated and enforced and other measures be adopted to keep workers as separated as possible, and deep-cleans are conducted on work stations where workers have self-isolated with coronavirus symptoms.’

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd commented: ‘Where essential services need to remain open, the safety of workers and their families is paramount.

‘Owners and management of those essential service companies who still have staff on production lines need to acknowledge the dangers of Covid-19.

‘They need to act responsibly by ensuring physical distance measures are in place and that steps are taken to protect these essential workers.

‘Statutory bodies with responsibility for health and safety need to take action to make sure those businesses which remain open are not placing any of their workers or their families at risk.’ 

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