Northern Ireland food workers refuse to start shift over coronavirus concerns

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
A meat processing plant. Workers at Linden Foods in Tyrone have refused to start their shift. (Photofusion/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Around 60 workers have refused to start their shifts at a Northern Ireland food processing plant, citing concerns about how the company is handling the coronavirus pandemic, according to trade union Unite.

Employees at a Linden Foods plant in Dungannon, County Tyrone, say that social distancing measures have not been implemented at the facility, and that those exhibiting coronavirus symptoms have still been allowed to work.

“There have been ongoing issues between management and workers at Linden Foods in Dungannon over the issue of the absence of social distancing for workers on the boning line, in the canteen, changing areas and at entry and exit points,” said Unite regional officer Brian Hewitt on Friday.

Read more: Coronavirus exposes UK food supply to ‘crisis of hunger’

Hewitt said that the company has also not provided additional wash facilities, and has failed to stagger breaks.

Linden Foods did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Finance.

Unite said that the workers refused to enter the workplace on Friday, noting that Linden Foods has “ignored” the health and safety concerns that have been raised over the past number of weeks.

The 60 workers are seeking assurances from management that distancing measures would be adopted at the plant.

“They are putting the lives and well-being of their employees at risk – their intransigence is entirely unacceptable,” Hewitt said.

“Linden Foods must engage with these workers and commit to provide comprehensive infection control measures to end this walkout.”

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Linden Foods, which processes beef and lamb, current provides its products to a range of retailers and convenience food manufacturers, as well as to the European meat-packing industry.

On Wednesday, staff at the Portadown processing plant of Moy Park, Northern Ireland’s largest employer, left their stations in protest over the lack of social distancing measures.

Moy Park subsequently introduced what it calls “robust” measures to protect staff, such as staggered break times and screens on some of its production lines.

Northern Ireland first minister Arlene Foster said businesses that can implement social distancing measures could remain open.

“If you are operating a business and you can have safe working practices then you can continue to do that,” Foster told the BBC.

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