The two-metre social distancing guideline for food industry workers on production lines now needs to be made mandatory by food minister George Eustice, according to Britain and Ireland’s largest union, Unite.

Unite, which has thousands of members in the food processing sector, including abattoirs, said that the mandatory enforcement by ministers should also encompass retails outlets, such as supermarkets, during the coronavirus emergency.

Unite’s call to George Eustice, secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs, comes after last week’s walkout by 1,000 workers at the Seagoe Moy Park site in Portadown over concerns about basic health and safety protections for the workforce. Poultry producer, Moy Park is one the UK’s top 15 food producers.

Aesponse from a spokeswoman for Moy Park was reported by Poultry World saying: “The health and well-being of our team is our most important consideration and we have put new, robust measures in place to keep them safe. We have thoroughly reviewed our sites and continue to take on board feedback from our team members. We had already identified 7 areas to enhance social distancing.”

“Ministers need to make the two-metre rule mandatory, as matter of urgency, across food processing, and also in the retail sector.”

Unite national officer for the food industry Bev Clarkson said: “The lack of the mandatory imposition of the two-metre rule by Government is a problem currently nationwide. Ministers need to make the two-metre rule mandatory, as matter of urgency, across food processing, and also in the retail sector

“As a society, we have quickly recognised that food production and the retail sector are key areas in maintaining adequate food supplies and keeping people’s morale high.

“I have been in contact with all the meat suppliers where we have union recognition. Some of the employers are introducing social distancing wherever possible, however they are saying that because the Government has not stated that it is mandatory within the sector then they are not implementing it on production lines.

“We have strenuously put it to them that if they do not implement it on production lines then the virus could spread rapidly throughout the factories.

“I have put a number of proposals forward, such as slowing the lines down enabling them to pull people off the lines and do it on a rotation, as well as putting perplex screens up.

“I have been informed that production is up by at least 40 per cent on all meat poultry sites because of the increase in demand, however, I pointed out that if the virus spreads in the factories then they won’t have enough staff to continue the production.”