GMB Union asks for urgent meeting with UK retailers over worker treatment

Supply chain model

GMB, a trade union that represents more than 600,000 members including food producers, has called for the UK government to convene an urgent meeting with the Big Six retailers and the Food and Drink Federation after it claims a major supplier for Tesco, Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer admitted social distancing was impossible in its factory. 

The letter, sent to Secretary of State for DEFRA, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, M&S, Lidl and Aldi comes after it says a Bakkavor Meals manager was secretly filmed in its North London factory admitting social distancing was not possible and threatening to sack staff who stayed at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The union also says it has identified numerous employers refusing to pay essential workers full pay if they are absent due to Covid-19, claiming some workers are only paid Statutory Sick Pay (£95.85 a week), increasing the likelihood that workers who face losing money will come into work and risk spreading the virus. 

GMB is calling for an urgent summit of the retailers, the Food and Drink Federation and Government to agree and implement minimum industry standards to reflect to the essential nature of the work. 

"Food and drink workers are essential to ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and our communities stay fed," Eamon O’Hearn, GMB National Officer, said. "GMB is working successfully with a number of employers to take a lead on standards, but too many are not meeting the challenge. Employers cannot put profit and production over the safety of essential workers. 

“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." 

The iTV report says its video "clearly depicts Sean Madden, Bakkavor’s head of operation, telling staff: “If we need to get rid of 200 people’s jobs next month, I’m going to look at who turned up to work and I’m going to look at who didn’t bother turning up to work. The people who didn’t bother turning up to work, you know, they will be the first people that we have to get rid of unfortunately.”

ITV said that Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer responded and will investigate the matter and that Tesco said the healthy and safety of everyone in its supply chain was a priority.

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