UK trade union GMB, which represents food production workers, has called for a Covid-19 food factory safety summit amid concerns about a lack of social distancing within facilities.

GMB has asked the government to convene an urgent meeting with grocery retailers and industry body the Food and Drink Federation to thrash out the issue.

The union has previously criticised Bakkavor, a private-label supplier to retailers including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer for what it claimed was a lack of social distancing at its facilities, while some employees at a Moy Park meatpacking facility in Northern Ireland briefly walked out over the same issue.

The union has sent a letter to George Eustice, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and to major grocery retailers calling for an urgent meeting on the matter and urging them to implement minimum industry standards to reflect “the essential nature of the work”. 

GMB said it has also identified numerous employers which are refusing to pay essential workers full pay if they are absent due to Covid-19, increasing the likelihood that workers who face losing money will come into work and risk spreading the virus. 

Eamon O’Hearn, GMB national officer, said: “Food and drink workers are essential to ensuring our supermarket shelves are stocked and our communities stay fed. GMB is working successfully with a number of employers to take a lead on standards, but too many are not meeting the challenge. 

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“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.” 

just-food has asked Defra for a response to GMB’s summit request.