Local publication This is Wiltshire claimed workers had staged a six-hour strike at the Devizes site over fears of inadequate safety precautions to tackle the spread of coronavirus there.
The strike at the factory – which supplies cakes to retailers Marks & Spencer and Waitrose – is alleged to have occurred from 6pm to 12am on Monday (August 3). It is unknown if action was approved by affiliated workers unions. However, a spokesman for Bakkavor told Food Manufacture a strike did not take place but did confirm that some members of staff had shared their grievances surrounding the COVID-19 cases.
“We reassured them, re-briefing them on the comprehensive COVID controls that we have in place, and used the opportunity to raise awareness on being socially responsible within the community,” said the spokesman.
Staff fears followed confirmation from Bakkavor that a number of workers had tested positive for COVID-19 at the factory. While it would not confirm how many people had tested positive, the manufacturer said it was less than 1% of the 540 people employed at the site.
The spokesman added: “In the event of a positive confirmation, we have an immediate and clear plan to follow and we are working closely with Public Health England. Due to the nature of our business, we already have high standards of hygiene, Good Manufacturing Practice and handwashing in place.
“In these unprecedented times, we have further enhanced our safety and hygiene measures in line with all government guidelines and daily temperature test our colleagues. We also have a robust return to work policy in place to ensure those returning to work are fit and well.”
Meanwhile, the company announced the planned closure of its Alresford salad factory in Hampshire due to the significant loss of business at the site with one of its key customers.
Despite its best efforts, Bakkavor, which employs around 100 people at the Alresford facility, said it had not been able to replace the business (which is due to transfer from the site to another supplier in October).
Mike Edwards, UK chief operating officer at Bakkavor, commented: “This is a sad day and it has been a very painful decision to make. We have worked hard over the last 20 years to become an integral part of the local community, both as a major employer and a supporter of many local community projects. As with businesses all over the UK, we are having to adjust our operations to a very different economic landscape, and this unfortunately involves the proposed closure of Alresford Salads.
“We will be working closely with employee representatives throughout the consultation process and fully appreciate that this is a difficult time for everyone concerned. This proposal is in no way a reflection of the commitment and dedication of all our colleagues at Alresford, who we thank for their hard work and loyalty over the years.”
Management of social distancing
Earlier this year, comments made by the GMB union and the Guardian raised questions about Bakkavor's management of social distancing and lack of adequate personal protective equipment measures in some of its plants. The GMB had also urged the company to improve its sick pay scheme to encourage staff to take time off if genuinely sick. However, Bakkavor countered criticism on these topics and chief executive Agust Gudmundsson said: "We continue to make their health, safety and wellbeing our foremost priority, and have been working in close cooperation with the various regulatory bodies, our colleague representatives and the unions to maintain a safe working environment for all our stakeholders."
There had been 306,293 confirmed cases of coronavirus in total across the UK as this article was published, with 46,299 deaths, according to reporting site Worldometer. New cases have slightly increased though July, sitting on an average of 801 as of today.
Food and drink manufacturers across the country have reported clusters of coronavirus in their factories in June.
2 Sisters Food Group reported 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at a Welsh chicken processing site, while a number of cases of coronavirus were confirmed at Tulip’s Tipton fresh pork manufacturing site, less than a month after confirming the closure of the factory.