GMB calls for DEFRA action over ‘inadequacy’ of food worker safety

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Concerns have been raised about the protection of staff
Concerns have been raised about the protection of staff

Related tags: coronavirus

Union GMB has called on the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to open a dialogue over the safety of food workers.

The union revealed that, earlier this month, it had written to the Secretary of State and major retailers about potential problems in the food and drink supply chain, which it felt could lead to unnecessary deaths in the industry.

The letter came after the Food Standards Agency issued new guidance for food manufacturers​, which in turn had followed back-to-work advice from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy in consultation with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), issued just the day before. 

The Government said this latter guidance​ had been released following input from firms, unions, industry bodies and the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Food safety has risen up the agenda since recent incidents in the industry, such as the report of COVID-19-related deaths of staff who worked at a Cranswick meat processing plant​ in Barnsley. 

Calls have also been made to protect staff in the Northern Ireland meat processing sector​ following the death of a staff member who worked for the Moy Park poultry site in Dungannon.

Dialogue

Eamon O’Hearn, GMB national officer, said: “We wrote to the Secretary of State for DEFRA about our concerns earlier this month, precisely because we wanted to avoid further deaths in our industry. 

“It’s now crucial that DEFRA establish a dialogue on the food and drink supply chain, including addressing the inadequacy of the Government guidance issued last week.”

GMB added that four in five workers thought returning to work would put their families at risk. 

The poll, completed by a sample of almost 3,500 workers across a wide range of sectors, showed 60% were worried about being pressured into returning to work, with 95% worried about catching coronavirus.

The survey also revealed 80% of workers found the return-to-work advice unclear, while less than 8% found it clear.

Related topics: COVID-19

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