The UK and Ireland’s largest trade union, Unite, has called for a mandatory two-metre social distancing to be put in place for those working in the food industry.

It has urged George Eustice, the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), to introduce the measure to protect those working on production lines in processing plants during the coronavirus crisis.

Unite’s call comes after last week’s walkout by workers at meat processor Moy Park’s site in Portadown, Northern Ireland, over concerns about health and safety protections for the workforce

Bev Clarkson, Unite national officer for the food industry, 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% 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.”

just-food has asked Defra for a response.