Unite, the union, has called for urgent action from the Stormont executive as it said that COVID-19 clusters have emerged in the poultry and meat processing sectors.
The union claimed action was needed to avoid a repeat of the crisis and fatalities in the care home sector. It said sites must be temporarily shut if necessary to allow for the testing of workers and their families, with staff remaining on full wages.
Jackie Pollock, regional secretary for Unite said: “It is now confirmed that a member of our union working in Moy Park in Dungannon died of COVID-19.
“We cannot allow a crisis to develop in the sector such as has been witnessed in the US where more than 10,000 workers have contracted the virus, with scores dead, or in Brazil where the number afflicted remains unknown due to the inadequacy of testing. We cannot allow political inaction to lead to a needless repetition of the COVID-19 crisis afflicting our care home sector.”
She added that while employers have said that they are complying with Government guidance, workers were still contracting this virus. She also questioned the guidance and enforcement mechanism being used as inadequate to preserve the health and safety of workers.
A spokesperson for Moy Park said it was “deeply saddened” to learn of the death of one of its team members.
“Our thoughts are with Luciana’s family and friends at this incredibly difficult time,” the spokesperson said.
“The terrible impact of the coronavirus pandemic continues to greatly affect everyone’s daily lives throughout our community.”
Moy Park said it worked quickly as the crisis unfolded and took key significant measures. These included the installation of perspex screens, social distancing, staggered breaks, social distancing in canteens, enhanced cleaning and additional personal protective equipment and incentive payments to 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,” the spokesperson said.
“We continue to consult, evolve and review our measures to ensure rigorous safety, for example we are in the process of introducing thermal temperature scanning of all team members as they arrive at work.”
Moy Park said it had received positive feedback following a recent unannounced inspection by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) at a site with the same measures in place to those at Dungannon.
In March meat factory workers at Moy Park Portadown plant in Northern Ireland walked out over concerns about social distancing. A number of workers walked out of the Seagoe Moy Park site. Unite claimed it was 1,000 workers while Moy park said it was 100 and they only left the factory for 15 minutes.
Moy Park is not the only meat processor to confirm cases at its factories.
Linden Foods, which is based in Northern Ireland, has confirmed that some of its staff have tested positive. It welcomed the introduction of COVID-19 testing for key workers and their families and said it continued to work closely with Government agencies on best practice protocols.
Omagh Meats, which is run by Northern Ireland-based Foyle Food Group Limited has confirmed cases of COVID- 19 at its processing site in Omagh.It is providing support to these employees who are not longer attending work and other employees that have been in contact with them are being tested.
A company spokesperson said: "The government and their various departments, including the Health & Safety Executive, have very clear guidance in relation to the operation of food processing facilities and specifically the risk surrounding COVID-19. We are fully compliant will this guidance in order to protect all of our teams during these unprecedented times."
The HSE for Northern Ireland (HSENI) said discussions were continuing with Moy Park to understand the circumstances of the death of one of its workers.
HSENI said it is currently carrying out unannounced inspections to businesses across Northern Ireland, with priority being given to sectors such as food processing companies and sites where repeated complaints have been received.
“We can confirm that a recent unannounced inspection was carried out at a Moy Park meat processing plant. A few minor issues were found but the overall compliance with the PHA COVID-19 guidance was found to be of a high standard,” it said.
Moy Park has partnered with community groups to donate thousands of meals to people most at risk during the coronavirus pandemic.