Unite the Union is calling for Banham Poultry workers, and future workers caught in a COVID-19 outbreak, to be given greater sick pay than the statutory minimum to ensure earlier detection and containment.
Today (1 September 2020) Norfolk County Council’s director of public health Louise Smith revealed that of the 769 workers at the Attleborough site tested so far, 104 were infected with COVID-19.
Smith added that the latest figures meant the approximate infection rate across the whole site was around 13%, compared to the total of 23% found when testing staff last week from the highest risk area, the cutting room. Here 80 were found to be positive out of 376.
However, all workers at the site, around 800 people, whether infected or not, are now being asked to self-isolate. Smith said: "Staff and their households, including children, must self-isolate for 14 days, if they have not tested positive or not been tested.
"Staff must isolate for 10 days if they have had a positive test result, and their households, including children, need to isolate for 14 days."
Over the weekend testing was expanded to include everyone who had worked at the site since 1 August, and Smith urged workers, and those in their household, who had not already done so, to “get tested”.
Unite the Union has argued that sick pay must be adequate to avoid those infected having to “choose between self-isolating or going into work because they cannot afford to be ill”. Weekly statutory minimum sick pay is £95.85.
The union argued that ongoing safety relies on employees’ willingness to self-report, and self-isolate, hand-in-hand with the other important measures such as good hygiene and physical distancing. It sees this as a wider issue, especially related to low paid employees, and not just related to this particular outbreak.
Unite regional officer Miles Hubbard said: "Throughout this crisis, Unite has warned food processing employers that poor pay combined with a lack of company sick pay risks staff having to choose between self-isolating or hoping for the best and going into work because they cannot afford to be ill.
"Refusing to provide adequate sick pay is unjust in any circumstances, but particularly so during a pandemic, as well as increasing the risk to other staff and the wider public.”
Hubbard said that Banham was owned by Chesterfield Poultry which, as a multimillion-pound firm, can “clearly afford to top up the statutory sick pay of £95.85 a week that its low paid workers are expected to live on if they need to self-isolate”.
Norfolk District Council said Banham Poultry had made a request for financial support, to be considered by officials and ministers. The council has also repeated its call that workers and their families in need of support should contact its Norfolk Assistance Scheme, which can help with food and medical supplies as well as hardship fund payments.
Banham Poultry and its shareholders have met to discuss the impact of the outbreak on its business and local area, with representatives from the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and other government departments, the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, George Freeman MP and Sam Chapman-Allen, leader of Breckland Council.
The building has been deep cleaned, and the company said it would bring in a new group of 45 people to continue to staff the slaughterhouse. The Health and Safety Executive and Breckland District Council environmental health have visited the Banham Poultry factory to advise on how to safely resume activity at the site.