Key workers walk out at poultry plant over coronavirus fears

Large numbers of workers have walked out at one of Northern Ireland’s main poultry manufacturers, a union said.

Unite regional officer Sean McKeever said the mass departure at Moy Park in Portadown, Co Armagh, is due to concerns over coronavirus.

Unite said it has attempted to secure commitments to ensure a minimum of two metres between workers, and other measures to enable infection control.

Mr McKeever said: “We need to see immediate movement… to address the workers’ legitimate fears over coronavirus transmission.”

Moy Park says it is one of the UK’s top 15 food companies and Northern Ireland’s largest private sector business. It is the region’s major chicken producer.

Food production is an essential service during the outbreak, the Government has said.

Official advice has changed rapidly over recent days as the virus has spread and companies large and small have had to react quickly.

Moy Park has been contacted for comment.

A smaller number of employees also walked off an ABP meat processing site in Lurgan, Co Armagh.

Susan Fitzgerald, Unite regional co-ordinating officer, urged the Government to act to protect workers.

She said: “Approximately 80 employees at ABP Meats in Lurgan who are deemed essential refused work today over fears for their safety.

“Unite has been informed that the workers are demanding adequate social distancing of two metres be facilitated and enforced and other measures be adopted to keep workers as separated as possible, and deep-cleans are conducted on work stations where workers have self-isolated with coronavirus symptoms.”

Sinn Fein Assembly member John O’Dowd said: “Where essential services need to remain open, the safety of workers and their families is paramount.

“Owners and management of those essential service companies who still have staff on production lines need to acknowledge the dangers of Covid-19.

“They need to act responsibly by ensuring physical distance measures are in place and that steps are taken to protect these essential workers.

“Statutory bodies with responsibility for health and safety need to take action to make sure those businesses which remain open are not placing any of their workers or their families at risk.”