Urgent call to put employees over profit during pandemic

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

GMB has called for an urgent meeting between retailers and the Government
GMB has called for an urgent meeting between retailers and the Government

Related tags coronavirus Chilled foods

Coronavirus' threat to food industry workers has triggered one trade union to press the six top grocery retailers put staff before profit, accusing a major supplier of foregoing social distancing guidance and scrimping on pay.

The GMB union has called for an urgent meeting between the Government, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the UK’s largest retailers.

A letter from the union – sent to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Lidl and Aldi – called out employers that refused to pay essential workers full pay if they were absent due to the coronavirus.

With statutory sick pay working out at £95.85 week, GMB claimed some workers had been forced to return to work or risk losing money, potentially increasing the spread of the virus.

Essential workers

GMB national officer Eamon O’Hearn reminded employers that food and drink workers were essential to ensuring our supermarket shelves were stocked and our communities stayed fed.

“GMB is working successfully with a number of employers to take a lead on standards, but too many are not meeting the challenge,”​ he added.

“Employers cannot put profit and production over the safety of essential workers. Now is the time for the industry to step up to the plate and do everything possible to reduce the risk of the virus impacting on essential workers in our food supply chain.”

The union urged the proposed summit of the retailers, FDF and the Government to agree and implement minimum industry standards to reflect the essential nature of the work of the food and drink industry.

Secret footage

GMB sent out the letter after footage emerged of a Bakkavor manager secretly filmed admitting social distancing was not possible and threatening to sack staff​ who stayed at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the footage, Bakkavor said the operations manager recorded had confused furloughing with redundancy and apologised to staff at the site for any miscommunication or worry caused.

Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union has called for urgent action from the Government to secure the survival of British dairy farming businesses​ hit by the coronavirus.

With the outbreak of COVID-19 hitting the foodservice and hospitality sectors the hardest, some dairy farmers supplying to these areas have had little choice but dispose of their milk on-farm.

Related topics Chilled foods Operations COVID-19

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