UK private-label food firm Bakkavor is facing criticism over its business practices during the coronavirus crisis.

The London-based business, which supplies major grocery chains including Tesco and Sainsbury’s, has been called out by trade union GMB over sick pay rates paid to self-isolating staff and for alleged lack of social distancing measures in its facilities.

GMB is calling on Bakkavor to revise upwards the level of sick pay being paid to staff forced to stay at home during the epidemic.

The union has also urged Bakkavor to “radically reorganise” production methods and line speeds to make its plants compliant with Covid-19 social distancing rules for the safety of the workforce and the general public. 
The union said GMB members in Bakkavor plants in west and north London and elsewhere are “deeply concerned over the inadequate level of company sick pay provisions” being offered to self-isolating staff.

“Unless sick pay is improved Bakkavor will force staff to work, putting fellow workers and the public at risk, or go without enough money,” GMB said in a statement.
Andre Marques, GMB London regional officer, said “Since the outbreak of this Covid-19 pandemic, GMB has been requesting information in relation to what support it will be offering its members working at Bakkavor Meals in  London. 
“GMB London has been calling for Bakkavor at this unprecedented time of difficulty to provide members with temporary enhanced company sick pay. This is to ensure those who need to self-isolate do not suffer financial detriment for doing so.
“GMB strongly believes that any businesses that falls within the key workers category must go above and beyond statutory requirements for their workforce.
“So it  is very disappointing to learn that Bakkavor’s company sick pay falls woefully short of GMB members expectations to support them through this crisis if they fall sick.
“Employees with less than five years’ service will only receive two weeks company sick pay, whilst those with more will receive four weeks. They then would have to rely on statutory sick pay for the remaining period of isolation. GMB members employed by Bakkavor are key workers and require and deserve so much more.”

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The union said it recognises reconfiguring Bakkavor’s production will slow down output but suggests there is no alternative.

Marques said: “GMB members at Bakkavor Meals in London are reporting no social distancing measures and no other safety measures for the production line are in place as part of the safe operation of the plant which means the workers are forced to work in crowded conditions.

“Those members working in the Bakkavor sites consider that government guidelines with regards to social distancing are being completely ignored and disregarded. This is not acceptable to GMB members.” 

GMB is calling on Bakkavor to reorganise production methods and to ensure social distancing measures are also in place in the canteen, other common areas and exit and entry points.

just-food has asked Bakkavor for a response to GMB’s complaints.