Coronavirus: Rowan Foods staff in Wrexham ‘do not feel safe’

Rowan Foods

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Rowan Foods in Wrexham says it has introduced screens and visors to keep staff safe

Workers at a Wrexham food factory linked to 237 coronavirus cases have said they do not feel safe.

One Rowan Foods worker anonymously told BBC 5 Live Investigates it was “only a matter of time before I catch it”.

He claimed some workers with symptoms were not self-isolating because they cannot afford to live off statuary sick pay. Another worker said it was “impossible to keep social distance”.

Rowan Foods said measures put in place in March were protecting workers.

The team at 5 Live said it saw evidence of personal protective equipment (PPE) not always being used and recent photos from inside the factory of people standing near each other and not wearing visors.

The official guidance is for people to stay two meters (6.6ft) apart, but Public Health Wales has said it accepts this may not always be possible.

In such circumstances workers should be given extra PPE – Rowan Foods said it had provided face visors, put screens up and put other safety measures in place.

In April dozens of workers there staged an unofficial walkout citing concerns over social distancing on the production lines.

When asked if he felt safe, one worker said: “Not when you’ve got three or four lines all working within a metre-and-a-half of each other.”

Social distancing ‘impossible’

He added: “I’m afraid that with the way it’s going, it’s only going to be a matter of time before I catch it.

“It’s as though I’m almost resigned to the fact that I’m going to get it. It’s just a case of when.”

Another worker said: “On the production line it’s impossible to keep social distance.

“There are 10 people on a line standing by each other. It’s not possible. We are sometimes just 30-40cm apart and you have nothing between you.

“I don’t know if anyone complains. So many don’t speak English. I don’t think they say anything.”

‘Can’t afford to be off work’

People with Covid-19 symptoms have been told to self-isolate for seven days and are legally entitled to £94 pounds a week in statutory sick pay.

But concerns have been raised that people with symptoms are continuing to work because they cannot afford not to.

A worker said: “Staff were worried mainly that they can’t afford to be off work.

“I heard people say that if they were told to isolate, they couldn’t afford to live off just the statutory sick pay. So some were staying in work.”

He continued: “The union started getting involved and started to actually talk to the company with regards to paying the staff that are isolated… so they could actually survive while being off.”

On Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for a furlough-style scheme to cover people self-isolating or forcing employers to pay full salaries.

5 Live asked Rowan Foods about this pay issue but it did not address it in its statement.

It has previously confirmed it was paying statutory sick pay. It is not under any obligation to pay full salaries while staff isolate.

The company said the Health and Safety Executive had been on site last week to look at the measures they had taken to protect their workforce and “gave assurance that the considerable measures we put in place in early March 2020 to protect our workforce have been successful and were protecting our colleagues from Covid-19”.

It added: “In addition, Public Health Wales has repeatedly confirmed that there is no evidence that Rowan Foods is the source of the outbreak.

“In short, we are complying with all Covid-19 guidance relating to our operations – we have been for some months now and continue to do so.”

There have been a number of clusters of Covid-19 cases in food factories.

Elsewhere in Wales there have been 216 cases among workers at 2 Sisters in Llangefni, Anglesey and 134 cases at Kepak in Merthyr Tydfil since April.

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