The GMB union’s recent call for the Government to meet with supermarkets and the FDF about food worker safety follows the story and video footage published by The Guardian newspaper, which was secretly filmed at a Bakkavor site.

Food Management Today has decided to publish the food manufacturer’s response in full:

“Thank you for bringing a clip of your footage to our attention.

To be clear there are no plans at this time to furlough or to make redundant factory-based colleagues at the Elveden site. Unfortunately, there are staff being furloughed in other parts of the country, a process that most UK companies are sadly going through at this time.

“The operations manager you recorded at an employee briefing confused furloughing with redundancy and comments made about these were inappropriate. We take this very seriously and are investigating the matter. We apologise to our Elveden staff for any miscommunication or worry caused. The manager in question has been given leave and prior to his return to work, he will undertake further training around his role and responsibilities and the high standards we expect of a Bakkavor manager. In these stressful times, we are committed to standing by all our people, working hard to protect jobs and we ask our staff to support one another. Everyone in the country is under a lot of stress at the moment and if there are instances of staff suffering from this pressure, we will of course look to support them, as we always would.

“We are conscious of an on-going union publicity campaign being targeted at our sector. At a time of national emergency, we do not believe now is the time to be running campaigns that could disrupt food supply and could undermine food production.”

“The coronavirus is profoundly affecting all families and businesses around the UK. Our advice to all our staff is to stay at home if they are feeling unwell or believe they have symptoms or if they are self-isolating due to members of their household displaying symptoms – points that were communicated at the staff briefing you have footage from. For staff that are fit and able to work, we do need them to come to work. This is essential work and cannot be done from home. Food supply at this time is important to the country at large and our staff are ‘key workers’ in helping to ensure supermarket shelves are replenished and families can buy food. We’re working hard to achieve this without putting any of our colleagues at risk. We are saddened and concerned to hear today that a few colleagues feel under pressure to come to work and we’re putting protocols in place to speak to all staff at their next shift to make it absolutely clear that no colleague should come to work if they feel unwell, are self-isolating or if a family member is unwell.

“As previously shared, the business works to strong safety and hygiene controls and these have been heightened since COVID-19 hit the UK. Bakkavor fully complies with yesterday’s updated PHE guidelines for food processing plants as part of its guidance to manufacturing and processing businesses. The UK Government has classified our employees as key workers and as a food business our established controls for managing both people and food safety within our manufacturing operations are robust and naturally provide a strong base to build our COVID-19 controls on. All our colleagues are self-certified as fit to work and our normal handwashing procedures, as well as our high levels of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) and hygiene, help to ensure a safe working environment. You have presented a view to us that implies we are relying just on snoods and balaclavas to protect our workforce which is a misrepresentation. We have introduced further controls which include restricted visitor access, a more rigorous return to work procedure, increased hygiene of touchpoints and additional handwashing to complement our already established controls. Snoods and balaclavas have been made available to factory workers and we are imminently phasing in visors, which we have been trialled at various sites.

“As with thousands of business across the country, Bakkavor is having to adapt to unprecedented market disruption, some areas of our business are in high demand whilst others have been hit during the isolation period, with fewer people visiting supermarkets. We are working very hard to adapt our business, to safeguard factory jobs and the associated economic health of the communities in which we operate – and to ensure this, we are switching our focus to respond to the fresh and prepared foods that are most needed by supermarkets and households at this challenging time.

“We are conscious of an on-going union publicity campaign being targeted at our sector. At a time of national emergency, we do not believe now is the time to be running campaigns that could disrupt food supply and could undermine food production.

“We respectfully disagree with the GMB’s assertion that our sick pay policy is incentivising ill employees to attend work. We have and continue to actively encourage colleagues to self-isolate if they display COVID-19 related symptoms in accordance with Government guidance. The high levels of sickness absence that we are experiencing at present confirms that colleagues are self-isolating, as they should be, and do not feel compelled to attend work if they display COVID-19 symptoms.

“All businesses are having to adapt to unprecedented and uncertain times. We are working hard to maintain food supply, we’re committed to protecting our staff and we thank the vast majority of our colleagues who are healthy and still coming to work every day to keep the supply of foods into our supermarkets and to consumers across the UK.”

  • The related GMB story calling for supermarkets and government to take action can be read here.