UK Union Demands Government and Retailers Protect Workers

GMB is advocating for the protection of food workers of large food retailers.
GMB is advocating for the protection of food workers of large food retailers.

April 15, 2020 — GMB, a UK union for food producers,is calling on the Government and some big players in the food industry to come together for better treatment of food workers. In a letter sent to the Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, the union states that food workers — who are deemed essential — are putting their lives at risk in their work environments and that big retailers are valuing money over people’s health. The union is specifically asking that the Government, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and a group of the biggest food retailers to meet together to forge a plan on how to protect food workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The retailers include ASDA, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S, Lidl and Aldi.

The union cites two main concerns: lack of physical distancing measures and workers not being paid if they have to stay home due to COVID-19. Recently Sean Madden, a manager from food group Bakkavor, was filmed admitting that physical distancing within the workplace was not possible. He also threatened staff with being laid off if they stayed home due to COVID-19. The union states that this is just one example of food workers being treated unfairly in the current circumstances. It asserts that some food retailers are refusing to fully pay their employees if they miss work due to COVID-19 and that this is a serious health threat. If food workers are not being paid fully when missing work due to COVID-19, there is a greater chance that workers will come into work sick and try and hide their symptoms. This can lead to COVID-19 illness outbreaks among staff and the community at large.

The union hopes that an emergency meeting among the Government and large food retailers can help to put these practices to a stop and protect essential food workers. Eamon O’Hearn, GMB National Officer, asserts that “Now is the time for the industry to step up to the plate and do everything possible to reduce the risk of the virus impacting on essential workers in our food supply chain.” If food workers at the largest retailers continue to be at risk, the entire operations of these businesses are at risk.