As many as 60 workers are understood to have refused to start their shifts at the Linden Foods site in Dungannon this morning (March 27).

The workers demanded "immediate talks" with management said there was a "total absence" of social distancing measures on the boning line, in the canteen and at entry and exit points.

It follows similar staff action at Moy Park and ABP Lurgan over the last few days.


Brian Hewitt, Unite regional officer for workers at Linden Foods in Dungannon, said he was contacted by workers after they walked out this morning.

"There have been ongoing issues between management and workers at Linden Foods in Dungannon over the issue of the absence of social distancing for workers on the boning line, in the canteen, changing areas and at entry and exit points," he said.

"The company's management has provided no additional wash facilities and failed to stagger breaks.

"Workers have been reporting to Unite that those exhibiting symptoms are still allowed to work as are those with family members who self-isolating as result of being in the high-risk health category.

Everyone needs to take responsibility but the company’s actions are putting workers needlessly at further risk.

"Both inside and outside the company, Unite has been raising health and safety concerns over the last weeks and unfortunately these have been ignored by management.

"In desperation and fear for their health and well-being, this morning approximately 60 workers refused to enter the workplace and sought assurances from management that 2m spacing would be adopted throughout.

"Management are continuing to ignore the concerns of their workers - they are putting the lives and well-being of their employees at risk - their intransigence is entirely unacceptable.

"Linden Foods must engage with these workers and commit to providing comprehensive infection control measures to end this walkout," Hewitt said.

Factories already maintain high hygiene standards

Meanwhile, an open letter to agri-food employees signed by Michael Bell executive director, Northern Ireland Food and Association (NIFDA), highlighted that staff were already working in a "controlled hygienic environment", which is routinely sanitised.

"Personal protective equipment and strict handwashing and hygiene protocols are already in place, and unnecessary - staff are restricted from food production areas," Bell wrote.

This is a good starting point, but as you will have seen, more can be and is being done.

Bell also praised staff for their hard work during a difficult time.

"We are very proud of our food and drink – it is world-class, and we have many awards to prove it. Demand for food from supermarkets has been increasing, as you will have seen and experienced," he wrote.

"We have been stepping up to the plate to meet that demand. Some of the increased demand is unfortunately due to stockpiling, and some is due to people having to eat at home all the time rather than in restaurants and cafes.

"All of us working within the entire food chain - farmers, processors and retailers - are doing our best to keep safe and keep going."


A spokesman for Linden Foods said: "At Linden Foods our utmost priority has always been and continues to be ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees and is at the forefront of our decision making.

"In light of the evolving pandemic, we have been actively implementing a range of measures across all our sites to provide a safe working environment.

"We are adhering to government guidance and continue to actively take feedback from our teams on the implementation of the measures taken. Today, we have approximately 40 employees from our total workforce who did not attend work.

We have doubled the size of our canteens, have erected new multiple handwashing units at the entrance to all our sites, increased sanitising units which are closely monitored, staggered breaks, erected new temporary changing facilities, carrying out temperature checks on all employees twice daily, reviewed social distancing and are installing screens and respacing work areas, increased PPE and undertaken additional training of our teams.

"We fully appreciate and respect our teams who continue to attend work as key workers, ensuring that the food supply chain functions smoothly to keep the nation fed."