Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 29, August 1, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

The Conditions of Many Workers Are Still Fuelling the Pandemic in Britain


As Britain imposes lockdown on European countries affecting vacations in Europe, Britain itself has local spikes with which to contend. In the latest announcement, local lockdowns have imposed in Manchester and other regions in the north of England. One of the causes has been the conditions of low-paid workers in textiles, food and parcel packaging, and processing, besides, it must be said, the cavalier attitude of the government to the safety of working people.

Many of the factories and processing plants are long-established, but work with Victorian conditions such as overcrowding, poor light and intolerable temperatures.

Today, coronavirus has highlighted the deficit in workers' conditions. Many workers are from abroad on less than minimum wages, not unionised, unregistered and in fear of the authorities. At the same time, they are doing work of utmost necessity, essential during the pandemic, and have been applauded for making sure the supply of food and clothing is secure and sustained.

CBS Packaging had to take the step of shutting down temporarily after Sandwell borough saw a "serious rise" in Covid-19 cases recently, when 49 of 117 staff, a third of the workforce, tested positive. The factory will shut for a total of 14 days, while workers self-isolate at home.

Earlier, Dr Lisa McNally, Sandwell Council's Director of Public Health, said 40 coronavirus cases in nearby Smethwick in seven days of data was "10 times higher" than previous weeks. There are concerns Covid-19 could be spread in Smethwick and Walsall.

The Tulip factory in Tipton

According to the latest government figures, 1,682 people have tested positive for coronavirus in Sandwell since the pandemic began while 5,881 people have tested positive across the four Black Country boroughs.

CBS is not the first Black Country firm to be badly hit by coronavirus - last month around a dozen staff tested positive at Tulip Foods in Tipton. The company has also confirmed it will close its fresh pork manufacturing site, workers were told. The company had already decided in March that it was looking at closing the site where 600 people work.

A joint statement on the Covid-19 cases was also issued by Tulip, health organisations and the local authority, which said: "Public Health England Midlands is working with Sandwell Council, the HSE and local NHS colleagues, to support meat processing business Tulip Ltd, following confirmation of some cases of Covid-19 in staff members. In line with NHS guidance, any affected individuals are being asked to self-isolate at home for seven days, with members of their households to isolate for 14 days."

The company have now said: "We are working with PHE Midlands to arrange swab testing for a sample group in one particular area of production before deciding upon the need for any further screening. As soon as we receive test results, we will liaise with health partners to assess whether further actions are necessary."

One worker, who did not wish to be identified, told local press, "At present there have been around 12 to15 reported positive Covid-19 cases. We are all worried about our safety there but no one seems to be concerned about the ever-increasing positive cases."

Workers are becoming unionised and organised to change their conditions and pay. Shop stewards and representatives are being elected and are widening their organisation. Personal protection, social distancing and general working conditions must be improved immediately in all workplaces. At the same time, workers are right to be on their guard against the authorities who are attempting to resolve problems at factories using police powers. Workers must be constantly checked and outbreaks tracked and traced in the community to protect themselves, their families and the rest of the community.

[Sources: Express and Star, BBC]


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