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Food production workers walk out over coronavirus fears in north of Ireland

ABOUT a thousand food production workers walked out over coronavirus safety fears at a major plant in Northern Ireland yesterday as unions called for all non-essential factories to be shut down.

Unite reported that bosses at the Moy Park site in Portadown rejected safety proposals put forward by the union, leading to the spontaneous mass walk-out.

Food factories are deemed essential businesses and are allowed to stay open during the coronavirus crisis, but bosses must ensure the safety of staff, including the use of social-distancing measures.

But Unite regional officer Steve McKeever accused management at the poultry giant of ignoring the concerns of its workforce.

He said the unofficial strike followed “the failure of the biggest employer in Northern Ireland to provide basic health & safety provisions to its workforce.”

“Unite attempted to secure commitments to ensure a minimum two-metre social distancing between workers and other measures to enable infection control in the face of the coronavirus threat, but our proposals were dismissed by management.

“Workers are refusing to return to work in unsafe conditions. This is an entirely foreseeable outcome of both management greed and total inaction from [the Six Counties government at] Stormont,” he said.

Mr McKeever demanded immediate action to address workers’ “legitimate fears over coronavirus transmission.”

Food production workers will not be treated as second-class,” he said.

About 80 workers at a meat factory in nearby Lurgan also walked out over safety fears.

Unite regional officer Susan Fitzgerald warned of a failure by bosses to maintain social distancing and a refusal to “deep-clean” work stations after staff have self-isolated having developed coronavirus symptoms.

She called for a full lockdown of non-essential factories.

“Government inaction is going to cost lives. There must be a full lockdown of non-essential companies and, where workers are deemed essential, every possible measure should be taken and enforced to protect them — or else they shouldn’t be there.”

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