A second worker has died amid a coronavirus outbreak at a factory which produces food for Marks & Spencer.
The staff member had been away from the work site since November 11. Investigation by the firm has not established that virus was contracted in the factory.
The company has internal track and trace, covid marshalls and has been briefing staff on safety measures.
Cases at the Bakkavor Tilmanstone Salads facility have risen from 35 in the third week of November to 65 positive cases and more than 60 additional staff isolating as a precaution as of today.
The factory has 800 employees, but many of those are office staff currently working from home.
The GMB union has called for the company to offer full pay to anyone taking covid-related absence, mass testing for staff and to perform a deep clean at the factory.
So far the union says the company has only agreed to ask staff to wear face masks. However, it is understood that onsite testing will be carried out.
Frank Macklin, GMB Organiser, said: “Sadly a second worker had died in a covid-19 related fatality. GMB’s thoughts and sympathies are with their family and loved ones.
“Bakkavor Tilmanstone Salads had only experienced a few positive cases of covid-19 before November, but we have now seen the virus sweep through the factory at an alarming rate in just over four weeks.
“25% of the workforce has been affected by this outbreak – unfortunately Public Health England does not feel that this is enough to step in.
“GMB has already requested the factory close to allow mass testing of employees and a deep clean of its factory.
“The company has enlisted an independent company to clean the facility – but the process only took a few hours and the factory remained open. This is clearly not good enough.
“There is an urgent need for Bakkavor Tilmanstone Salads to pay employees their full salary if they have tested positive for covid-19 or have to self-isolate. That’s the most important step they can take to eradicate this outbreak.
“GMB has lodged a formal collective grievance on behalf of our members, as we believe the health and safety of our members has been seriously compromised at the factory.”
Bakkavor has been contacted for comment.
The Bakkavor website says: “The nature of our business has always called for us to impose the strictest hygiene and safety measures across all our sites and we have always had strong controls in place for managing this in production areas.
“As soon as COVID-19 started to threaten our colleagues, visitors and sites, we developed a Coronavirus Management Strategy based on specific COVID-19 risk assessments and implemented control measures based on Government, Public Health and Industry guidance.”