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Calls for factory closure after worker dies from Covid-19

Calls have been made for a poultry processing factory in Northern Ireland to be temporarily closed down after a 58 year old female worker died from Covid-19.

Workers union Unite says urgent action is needed by local government Ministers after Luciana Viviana da Silva died from Covid-19 and other clusters of infections reported at other poultry and meatpacking sites. The union is also demanding that the entire workforce at Moy Park’s Dungannon site, and their families, must be tested and assessed, with workers receiving full pay for the duration.

Even with high levels of automation, poultry processing still needs many workers in the factory, leading to Covid-19 virus risks. Photo: Michel Zoeter
Even with high levels of automation, poultry processing still needs many workers in the factory, leading to Covid-19 virus risks. Photo: Michel Zoeter

Sean McKeever, regional officer for Unite, demanded that the Northern Ireland Executive act urgently bring forward an emergency response to the rising number of Covid-19 clusters among workplaces in the poultry and meat industries. McKeever said: “Unite has now confirmed that a worker based in Moy Park Dungannon has died following contracting the Covid-19 virus. This is devastating news and we would like to extend our condolences to her friends and family.” He continues: “For some time our union has been raising our concerns about the failure of management to ensure proper social distancing on production lines in Moy Park sites in Dungannon and Portadown. Sadly, the Health and Safety Executive has yet to conduct a physical inspection on either site. The dreadful news that this female worker lost her life does not come as a huge surprise.”

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High rate of Covid-19 infections

According to McKeever the union is aware of outbreaks in Moy Park sites at both Dungannon and Portadown. Unite has exposed clusters forming in a growing number of meatpacking sites. “Workers across the poultry and meat sectors are hugely concerned for their safety and the mid-Ulster area is now suffering a higher rate of infection than any other part of Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Executive must act now before it is too late. We don’t want to see a repeat of their inaction that led to the crisis and avoidable deaths in our care homes.”

Challenges in meat processing facilities

“There are particular challenges in meat processing factories which mean they need a sector-specific strategy. We want to avoid the risk of the industry facing the same crisis as in the USA and Brazil where tens of thousands of workers have caught this virus. Moy Park’s Dungannon site must be temporarily shutdown while all workers are tested and results come back. Workers must receive full pay for the duration of closure.” The Union wants the HSENI to conduct responsive and unannounced physical inspections of all meat processing sites, in particular both Moy Park plants, and needs clarity on the proper response to an outbreak within a workforce. “If Ministers don’t act to ensure such actions to protect workers, Unite will not sit back and watch while our members’ safety is compromised,” said McKeever.

Moy Park offer condolences

Moy Park offered its sincere condolences to the family of the worker and highlighted the efforts the company was going to in order to keep workers safe. A spokeswoman for Moy Park said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the death of one of our team members. Our thoughts are with Luciana’s family and friends at this incredibly difficult time. The terrible impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to greatly affect everyone’s daily lives throughout our community.” Moy Park states: “As we have consistently stated, the health, well-being and safety of our Moy Park team members is always our most important consideration. It is all the more disappointing therefore to have to respond to these inaccurate claims made by Unite the Union.”

Measures taken in meat processing facilities

The processor said: “Moy Park worked quickly with all key parties (government, industry bodies, employees and unions) as the Covid-19 crisis unfolded. We evolved our actions to create and implement bespoke solutions early on, with many of them now recognised as leading the way for food processors.”

The key significant measures taken included the following:

  • Installation of perspex screens
  • Social distancing/team member traffic flow on site
  • Staggered breaks/socially distanced restaurants
  • Enhanced cleaning and additional PPE
  • Incentive payments to all site based team members

“These measures have been in place for some time at all our sites and are stringently followed. These are also exactly the type of measures that government guidance is now calling for as other industries return to work.” Moy Park continues to consult, evolve and review measures to ensure rigorous safety, for example introducing thermal temperature scanning of all team members as they arrive at work.

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Following government guidelines

“We reiterate, Moy Park follows all government guidelines and work closely with the Public Health Agency, DAERA and the Health and Safety Executive, adhering strictly to their advice and protocols. We have received positive feedback following a recent unannounced inspection by the HSE that was conducted at one of our other sites, which has the same measures in place to those at Dungannon.” The inspection focused solely on the controls which are in place to ensure employee safety in relation to COVID-19. “We will continue to update our procedures in line with their guidance and work tirelessly to protect the safety of our team and we formally review the situation daily. Finally, we just want to say how incredibly proud we are of all of our people, who truly deserve the name of being Food Heroes, as they aim to help feed the nation during this crisis,” said the spokeswoman.