Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 24, June 27, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

2 Sisters Food Monopoly Disregards Jobs and Conditions of Workers

Food company 2 Sisters has asked staff at chicken processing plants in North Wales and Anglesey to self-isolate after more than 300 cases of coronavirus were confirmed. The number of cases has been a shock and has focused attention on the industry as a hot spot for transmission.

The food group announced in a statement on June 18 that it would halt production at the Llangefni site for 14 days. The 2 Sisters Food Group also announced the details of a £1m welfare fund for workers at the abbatoir on Anglesey.

Public Health Wales said that mass testing of staff is taking place at sites in Langenfni, Holyhead and Bangor.

The first reported positive case at the Llangefni plant was on May 28. The company insists that it has had a full "safe ways of working" action plan in place since early March.

560 people are employed at the factory and will be transferred to other company locations until July 2.

The food producer is one of the largest in the country, with brands including Fox's Biscuits and Holland's Pies, and customers such as the major supermarkets, KFC and Marks & Spencer. The company supplies food to Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose. The supermarkets have become a focus of concern throughout the pandemic too, both in terms of suppliers and retail outlets concerning the spread of the disease.

Dr Christopher Johnson, consultant in health protection for Public Health Wales, said: "Public Health Wales can confirm that employees and contractors of the 2 Sisters poultry processing plant in Llangefni have been notified that they are coronavirus contacts, and we are asking them to self-isolate for 14 days to help protect population health.

"We are working in close collaboration with the employer, Anglesey and Gwynedd councils, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and other partners, and our priority is to bring this outbreak to a swift conclusion."

Anglesey County Council leader Llinos Medi said: "With a significant number of confirmed coronavirus cases amongst employees, this is a huge priority, not only for us on Anglesey, but for the whole of North Wales."

The major outbreaks in North Wales are not isolated incidents and follow on from nearly 200 other reported Covid-19 flare-ups around the world in food factories. The Guardian reported that there had been more than 180 such outbreaks at meat and processed food plants in the US, with other countries having "highly consolidated meat supply chains" affected, including, Britain, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Germany, Brazil and Canada. Another 650-testing positive at a slaughterhouse in Germany and another outbreak involving a meat packing factory in Yorkshire. Food processing plants are vulnerable to virus outbreaks. Supply of food is essential but there are problems with crowded working conditions. There are difficulties maintaining social distancing.

Asda shut down operations at its meat processing site in its Kirklees, Kober site after staff contracted Covid19.

In Wrexham, North Wales, 38 staff at the Rowan Foods factory have also tested positive for the virus, but bosses said the cases reflected an increase in the locality rather than a spread within the site.

A spokesman for Oscar Mayer, which runs the Rowan Foods plant, said a track and trace process had been implemented at the Wrexham factory, which prepares foods for supermarkets and chains including Greggs and Subway.

2 Sisters is not innocent in its treatment of workers. Jobs were threatened and closure of poultry site in May 2019. It was part of the monopoly's rationalisation programme.

The Birmingham-based business, which has chicken processing plants in West Bromwich and Wolverhampton, proposed closure of its UK poultry Witham processing site in Essex. Chief executive Ronald Kers talked about reducing cost and building a better organisational culture to increase productivity and performance. 2 Sisters had already cut more than 200 jobs at a Fox's Biscuit site in the East Midlands earlier that year.

The outbreak of Covid19 is a shock at a time when the government is relaxing lockdown and reduced the state of alert to what it calls "Level 3". There are fears of a new peak in the coronavirus outbreak.

The health and safety conditions of the workers, including test and trace measures need to be rapidly improved.

2 Sisters cannot continue in the old style of management and make all the decisions concerning workers' conditions. Food distribution and production must maintain the highest standards from now on. The pandemic has highlighted the need to take up social responsibility. Workers, the key productive force in all aspects, need to be the determining factor over their working environment and livelihoods.


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