Rowan Foods: 97 coronavirus cases linked to Wrexham factory

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

A union has accused a Wrexham food factory linked to nearly 100 cases of coronavirus of putting staff safety at risk.

The health minister says 97 people have now tested positive after staff became ill at Rowan Foods.

Unite accused the company of not dealing with health and safety concerns urgently, after talks broke down over sick pay.

The company said staff safety was its priority.

It said it was following government advice on health and safety, and on pay.

"We have been proactively introducing new operational changes at the site for some months now, since the issuing of government guidance for the food industry in March 2020, to ensure that we maintain social distancing wherever practically possible, and have also included new mitigations such as screens and visors," a spokesman said.

Cases at the plant, which employs 1,500 people, were first made public on Thursday when the company said 38 staff were "absent due to testing positive for Covid-19".

On Wednesday, the health minister Vaughan Gething told the Senedd 1,000 tests centred around the plant had been carried out, with 97 confirmed cases.

He said the factory was still open and contact tracing was being carried out with people being asked to self-isolate.

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Image caption The 2 Sisters site on Anglesey has been closed

Two other food processing plants have had confirmed cases in Wales, with the largest number at 2 Sisters in Anglesey.

To date 200 people, mostly workers at the Llangefni chicken plant, as well as people who have come in contact with them, have tested positive for Covid-19.

The factory has been closed, and all staff have been told to self-isolate and the majority have now been tested.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption 33 workers tested positive at Kepak Food since April

In Merthyr Tydfil, 33 cases have been confirmed at the Kepak Food Group plant, but an outbreak has not been declared, Mr Gething confirmed.

In a written statement, Mr Gething said while "all necessary action was being taken to control and prevent the spread of the virus, there was no evidence it survived in food".

"These outbreaks show that we all need to continue to take coronavirus very seriously - it has not gone away," he said. "We also know coronaviruses thrives in cold, damp environments and it survives for longer indoors and particularly on smooth surfaces - a particular challenge for the meat processing sector.

"We also know that many people employed in this sector are on basic minimum wage and levels of statutory sick pay mean many people feel they have no choice but to carry on working when they are ill."

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Image caption Rowan Foods said it was following government advice on sick pay

Unite said talks over health and safety at Rowan Foods had "broken down".

Dave Griffiths, the regional officer, said the union had been raising health and safety concerns with the company since early June, but they "had not been dealt with the urgent attention they demand".

He said staff who were having to self-isolate due to testing positive, or being contacted through the test and trace system, were only getting statutory sick pay.

Rowan Foods said it had introduced a "behavioural safety system and social distancing champions" at the factory.

"These measures have limited the impact on our teams.  We continue to work with public health authorities. 

"In line with government guidance we are paying staff who are off work due to Covid-19 statutory sick pay from the first day of absence," the spokesman said.

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