Socialist Worker

Workplaces the centre of coronavirus spread—they must be shut down

by Charlie Kimber
Issue No. 2712

Coronavirus is spreading in workplaces - as the Tories try to push people back to work

Coronavirus is spreading in workplaces - as the Tories try to push people back to work (Pic: Number 10/Flickr)


Suspected outbreaks of Covid-19 in workplaces in England almost doubled in the past week.

The figures prompt concern as more people are driven to return to their jobs by the Tories. They also raise urgently the question of what the union leaders are doing to protect workers’ safety.

Public Health England (PHE) said on Thursday that 43 acute respiratory outbreaks were reported in workplaces in the week ending 28 June. That’s up from 22 in the previous week.

The data shows the spread of the virus in workplaces is trending up. According to official figures, transmission in most other settings is officially in decline. Prisons are the only other setting where outbreaks of the virus increased at all.

Low paid and manual workers, face a much bigger danger from coronavirus than higher-paid executives and managers. Security guards, care workers, construction workers, plant operatives, cleaners, taxi drivers, bus drivers, chefs and retail workers are all at a greater risk of dying.

Meting out misery - coronavirus outbreaks and the meat industry
Meting out misery - coronavirus outbreaks and the meat industry
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This is according toanalysis of Covid-19 fatalities from the Office for National Statistics.

The increased return to work demanded by the Tories has clearly caused an increase in outbreaks in workplaces. Figures show clusters started to increase two to three weeks after people began to go back.

In the week ending 7 June there were 24 reported outbreaks, up from five in the previous week.

At the time of the outbreaks, the data published by PHE did not make clear that these clusters were occurring in workplaces. This is because the cases were recorded under “other settings”.

In the last week the 2 Sisters chicken factory in Llangefni, Wales, with a workforce of 550, reported an increase from 175 to 216 cases. At Rowan Foods, in Wrexham, Wales, which employs 1,500, the number of cases has risen from 70 to 237 cases.

At the Kober Ltd meat processing plant in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, confirmed cases among its 1,500 workers increased from 150 to 165. The total number of 618 cases is well above the 250 originally reported when the sites were temporarily closed less than two weeks ago.

Richard Horton: the system has failed
Richard Horton: the system has failed
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However, only the 2 Sisters factory remains closed now, and it was due to reopen on Friday this week.

A man who works at the Kober plant told the Yorkshire Live website, “I saw that it had been said that up to 150 employees had tested positive for coronavirus but I think the figure will be a lot higher.

“I tested positive for it myself so that was a scary moment but fortunately I appear to have only mild symptoms.

“It's a fairly close-knit plant as a lot of people got their jobs through knowing other members of staff and people often travel to work together too so there's plenty of opportunities for the virus to be transmitted.

“And you are stood so close to one another whichever shift you are on.”

The trade unions know all this but they are not campaigning for walkouts. Instead they swallow the lie that keeping business going is good for workers.

Unite rightly points out the scandal of Rowan Foods not paying self-isolating workers their normal wages. This means people who are ill come to work and can spread the virus.

But it’s not enough to complain. Production has to stop and the union leaders should say that whether the anti-union laws allow it or not.

Ruthless bosses are putting lives at risk, and by not mobilising effectively against them the union leaders make themselves complicit in this process.


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