The union Unite has said that Bernard Matthews bosses ‘disregarded Coronavirus concerns’ at its Great Witchingham factory in Norfolk, where 75 staff have tested positive.
Unite says it repeatedly flagged social distancing and safety issues with the factory’s management prior to the outbreak, but the grievances were met with unsatisfactory responses.
The union adds that during a visit by the HSE on 21 October, the company also refused to allow a union health and safety rep to speak to HSE personnel – something they are lawfully entitled to do.
On 19 October, the company reinstated bus fares – charging £5 a day following an increase from £3.50 this summer – on its company run buses after having suspended them at the beginning of the month to encourage staff not to car share.
The suspension came following pressure from Unite, after Bernard Matthews said car sharing could be linked to a separate outbreak at its Holton site in Suffolk.
The risk of an outbreak at the factory has also been exacerbated, says Unite, by Bernard Matthews’ policy of not providing company sick pay. Minimum wage Bernard Matthews workers who need to self-isolate must survive on statutory sick pay (SSP) of £95.85 a week, take holidays or use banked hours they will have to pay back at a later date.
Unite says it has repeatedly warned Bernard Matthews that company sick pay needs to be implemented not only during outbreaks, but as a preventative measure so that financially vulnerable staff do not disregard the need to self-isolate because they need to pay their bills.
During the outbreak at Norfolk’s Banham Poultry, staff told the BBC that workers turned up for work sick because they could not afford to get by on SSP.
Unite regional officer Mark Jaina said: “Bernard Matthews has consistently disregarded Coronavirus concerns raised by Unite and individual staff members, as well as preventing a union safety rep exercising their lawful right to speak to HSE personnel during a visit this week to the Great Witchingham site.
“Despite knowing the risks, Bernard Matthews has gone back to encouraging car sharing by charging for buses and is refusing to implement sick pay policies that would prevent symptomatic staff on poverty wages from turning up to work.
“As part of the same billion-pound poultry empire as 2 Sisters, Bernard Matthews should be doing much more to protect its staff and the public during the pandemic.”