Overpriced, pre-packaged sandwiches shouldn’t be a matter of life and death, but for Greencore factory workers that could be the case. Some 299 workers have tested positive for Covid-19 at the food factory in Northampton, which employs 2,100 people.
The plant makes sandwiches for suppliers including Marks and Spencer.
Workers who tested positive are self-isolating, but the outbreak could be even bigger than initially thought—between 300 and 400 results are yet to come back.
Nicolae Macari, Bfawu union branch secretary at the factory, was one of those who tested positive.
“When suddenly three or four people are pulled out of a line because they have tested positive, people are terrified,” he said.
“Making sandwiches seems to be much more important than everything else.”
Nicolae’s mother and father also work at the site and also tested positive. His wife also tested positive for Covid-19. By 3 August 13 workers at the plant had tested positive and the local Public Health officials told other Greencore employees to get tested.
Northampton is experiencing a rise of cases and has the 12th highest rate of coronavirus infections in England.
Its population is suffering from 38 positive cases for every 100,000 people. In July, Northampton was put on a watchlist as an area that might need to enter a local lockdown.
Lucy Wightman, Director of Public Health at Northamptonshire County Council, claimed that the outbreak was “about how people behave outside of Greencore, not at work”.
She also said that rising infection rates meant a local lockdown was on the cards.
Wightman said the firm had “highly effective measures in place and they continue to work extremely hard to exceed the requirements needed to be Covid-19 secure within the workplace”.
It’s absurd to suggest that the Greencore workplace isn’t the centre of this outbreak.
But instead of shutting down the factory, Greencore said it was “continuing as usual” and conducted tests over a period of three days. Bosses at the site acknowledged that, as at countless workplaces around Britain, many staff were entitled to no more than the statutory sick pay rate of £95.85 a week if they followed instructions to self-isolate.
Whatever people’s behaviour outside the workplace is, the rate of infection in Greencore is far higher than in the rest of the community.
Therefore, Covid-19 is being transmitted at the factory, and workers should demand that the workplace is closed without any loss of pay.
And their Bfawu union should support them in taking the action necessary to make this happen.
The outbreak at Greencore shows that bosses would rather have workers in unsafe workplaces than shut down business even for just one day.
It follows a similar case at an Asda-owned meat processing site in West Yorkshire, where 165 employees contracted the virus in June.
Several other plants have also been hit.