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Coronavirus: Banham Poultry workers ‘turned up for work sick’

By Matt Precey
BBC News

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  • Coronavirus pandemic

Banham Poultry, Attleborough

image captionSome workers at Banham Poultry have told the BBC they felt afraid to take sick leave

Workers at a chicken factory at the centre of a Covid-19 outbreak say colleagues turned up for work despite being unwell during the pandemic.

Banham Poultry in Norfolk

closed last month and more than 100 staff have since tested positive for the virus.

One worker told the BBC “people were afraid to take sick leave, because sick pay is so low”.

The company said employee safety “has always been and remains our number one priority”.

The number of cases at the plant in Attleborough has increased to 127, with a further 22 linked to the outbreak.

Public health officials told a recent cabinet meeting of Norfolk County Council that Banham Poultry had followed government guidance.

But three workers who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity described how colleagues presenting with symptoms had previously turned up for work.

They said their co-workers had done this because they would “struggle” to get by on sick pay.

image copyrightAFP

image captionIn 2018, one million birds a week went through Banham Poultry’s Attleborough factory

Two also described how colleagues, including one woman who appeared to have Covid-19 symptoms, had gone into work soon after returning from abroad,

One said: “We had people coming back from holiday, who should be in quarantine, but they weren’t. I am surprised we didn’t get Covid sooner.”

The staff also said shift changes led to situations where social distancing was difficult, and highlighted the smoking area as a particular problem.

‘Poor pay’

The company previously confirmed it provided workers who were self-isolating with statutory sick pay, currently set at £95.85 per week.

Miles Hubbard, regional officer of the Unite union, said: “Unite has warned food processing employers that poor pay combined with a lack of company sick pay risks staff having to choose between self-isolating or hoping for the best and going into work because they cannot afford to be ill.

“Refusing to provide adequate sick pay is unjust in any circumstances, but particularly so during a pandemic.”

Banham Poultry went into administration in 2018 with debts of £40m.

It was bought by Chesterfield Poultry, which made pre-tax profits of £2.5m in 2018/19.

In a statement, Banham Poultry said testing had found 95% of its cases had been asymptomatic.

“To ensure the risk of coronavirus spreading on our site has been minimised. We have had social distancing measures in place from the outset, including introducing separation screens where that is not possible,” it said.

“Those that have left the country to visit places not approved by the government’s travel corridor list have been expected to self-isolate for 14 days.

“We have a return to work declaration that requires staff to record where they have been. We can only control what happens at our site.”

In the Commons on Thursday, Mid Norfolk Conservative MP George Freeman asked what financial support was available for the firm.

Environment Secretary George Eustice replied: “I had a meeting with my officials yesterday to discuss this individual case.

“We do understand the difficulties that Banham Poultry are facing. I know that our officials are in constant dialogue both with the company but also with officials in other departments including Public Health England and the Treasury as well.”

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