Unite’s description of working conditions in UK meat plants is misleading
Unite the Union have made a series of misleading claims this week about working conditions in British meat processing plants that are muddying the waters in the fight to understand and combat the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has strongly rejected the claims and their Chief Executive Nick Allen commented that “Meat processing is a skillful but physically demanding job and, contrary to Unite’s claims, conditions at BMPA members’ plants are far from ‘dire’.”
Mr Allen went on to describe the tightly regulated working conditions in plants: “Our member companies work to strict hygiene and safety controls imposed by the Food Standards Authority, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. While working temperatures are necessarily cold in parts of the factory, workers are given the protective clothing and equipment they need to keep them and the food they produce safe.
“These highly regulated working conditions apply equally to all staff from the skilled butchers in the boning and cutting halls to the support staff who keep the canteens and offices running; it’s one standard for everybody”.
Coronavirus safety measures
Since March BMPA’s members have spent millions of pounds following Government guidance on how to make working conditions as safe as possible to allow food production to continue. Measures such as Perspex screens, staggered shifts, one-way systems, temperature testing and extra PPE have become standard.
The nature of all chilled food production, just like the nature of other key worker settings means that, even when all Government guidance is followed, risks cannot be completely eliminated. And it is not practical to simply shut down all plants (as has happened with non-essential manufacturing) because of the strategic importance of maintaining the country’s food supply.
Food manufacturers have been learning and adapting throughout the current pandemic and have been putting in place measures across their sites to mitigate as much risk as possible. However, employers have no control over what happens outside of working hours.
What more can be done?
Beyond implementing exiting guidelines, BMPA has been working closely with Government to set up a special food industry task force that will allow industry to collaborate with local authorities, standards agencies, health officials and Government to tackle a broad range of issues including covid-19, labour shortages and supply chain resilience. The group will also work on ways to mitigate ongoing risk and keep production operating smoothly and safely.
Ultimately the food security of our country depends on it.