A spokesman for the business outlined the measures in response to video footage released by the Guardian appearing to show an operations manager at the site telling workers "you can't socially distance here". He is also filmed saying: "Keep Tesco happy or we won't have jobs." He also told staff that 150 jobs had already been lost as a result of the impact of the pandemic and "those who didn't bother turning up would be the first to go".
In a statement addressing the Guardian, Bakkavor said: "The operations manager you recorded at an employee briefing confused furloughing with redundancy and comments made about these were inappropriate. We take this very seriously and are investigating the matter. We apologise to our Elveden staff for any miscommunication or worry caused. The manager in question has been given leave and prior to his return to work, he will undertake further training around his role and responsibilities and the high standards we expect of a Bakkavor manager."
The GMB claimed Public Health England (PHE) guidelines for safe working conditions in food factories during the pandemic, encouraging social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) use, were being disregarded at Elveden. It cited workers being told to use snoods and balaclavas to prevent the potential spread of infection. However, the Bakkavor spokesman said: "Bakkavor fully complies with updated PHE guidelines for food processing plants as part of its guidance to manufacturing and processing businesses. The UK Government has classified our employees as key workers and as a food business our established controls for managing both people and food safety within our manufacturing operations are robust and naturally provide a strong base to build our COVID-19 controls on.
Self-certified as fit to work
"All our colleagues are self-certified as fit to work and our normal handwashing procedures, as well as our high levels of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and hygiene, help to ensure a safe working environment. You have presented a view to us that implies we are relying just on snoods and balaclavas to protect our workforce which is a misrepresentation.
"We have introduced further controls which include restricted visitor access, a more rigorous return to work procedure, increased hygiene of touchpoints and additional handwashing to complement our already established controls. Snoods and balaclavas have been made available to factory workers and we are imminently phasing in visors, which we have been trialled at various sites."
In answer to a GMB claim that Bakkavor sick pay policy was incentivising ill staff to keep working, the spokesman said the firm "respectfully disagree": "We have and continue to actively encourage colleagues to self-isolate if they display COVID-19 related symptoms in accordance with Government guidance. The high levels of sickness absence that we are experiencing at present confirms that colleagues are self-isolating, as they should be, and do not feel compelled to attend work if they display COVID-19 symptoms."
The spokesman added: "We are conscious of an on-going union publicity campaign being targeted at our sector. At a time of national emergency, we do not believe now is the time to be running campaigns that could disrupt food supply and could undermine food production."
The GMB stressed: "The statement from the TUC [Trades Union Congress] Joint Council, HSE [Health and Safety Executive] and CBI [Confederation of British Industry] warned that employers who do not comply with the latest PHE guidance, including by not introducing social distancing measures, face being hit with enforcement notices and potential closure."