40 food plant workers in Co Tyrone go on strike due to coronavirus fears

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By Rebecca Black, PA

Dozens of workers refused to start their shifts at a food processing plant in Co Tyrone on Friday over safety concerns around coronavirus.

Unite the union said the workers at Linden Foods in Dungannon are demanding talks with management over infection control measures, claiming a "total absence of social distancing measures on boning line, in canteen and at entry and exit points".

Linden Foods said it had implemented measures to protect staff including doubling the size of its canteens, erecting new handwashing units, staggered breaks and carrying out temperature checks on employees.

In a statement the company said it is also installing screens and respacing work areas.

Unite regional officer Brian Hewitt said the union will do "whatever it takes to support our members' fight for adequate coronavirus infection controls".

"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," he said.

"The company's management has provided no additional wash facilities and failed to stagger breaks.

"Workers have been reporting to Unite that those exhibiting symptoms are still allowed to work, as are those with family members who are self-isolating as result of being in the high-risk health category.

"Both inside and outside the company, Unite has been raising health and safety concerns over the last weeks and unfortunately these have been ignored by management.

"In desperation and fear for their health and well-being, this morning approximately 60 workers refused to enter the workplace and sought assurances from management that two metres spacing would be adopted throughout."

Earlier this week there were walk-outs at poultry firm Moy Park in Portadown and the ABP food group in Lurgan over similar concerns.

In a statement Linden Foods said 40 workers had not reported for work.

"In light of the evolving pandemic we have been actively implementing a range of measures across all our sites to provide a safe working environment.

"We are adhering to Government guidance and continue to actively take feedback from our teams on the implementation of the measures taken.

"We have doubled the size of our canteens, have erected new multiple handwashing units at the entrance to all our sites, increased sanitising units which are closely monitored, staggered breaks, erected new temporary changing facilities, carrying out temperature checks on all employees twice daily, reviewed social distancing and are installing screens and respacing work areas, increased PPE and undertaken additional training of our teams.

"We fully appreciate and respect our teams who continue to attend work as key workers, ensuring that the food supply chain functions smoothly to keep the nation fed."

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