The news was met with outrage by union GMB

Two workers at Bakkavor’s Tilmanstone salads factory in Kent have died from coronavirus.

News of one worker’s death broke yesterday, with Bakkavor confirming a second had passed away today, amid an outbreak of the disease at the facility, which employs some 900 people.

A spokesman for Bakkavor said the worker died “following a positive test for Covid at a time when the county has been put into Tier 3 Covid controls. This member of staff had been away from the workplace since 11 November and reported in for sick leave following a period of annual leave.

“Our thoughts are with the family, who we are supporting at this difficult time, and we would ask that their privacy is respected.”

Bakkavor said it had ”rolled out a programme of heightened safety measures at its Tilmanstone site, working in full compliance with Public Health England guidelines”. 

In a statement issued last night, Bakkavor confirmed 65 workers were off work having tested positive for coronavirus, while an additional 68 were self-isolating as a precautionary measure.

”Following discussions with PHE South East and Kent County Council over the last week, we are commencing an on-site testing programme for all staff, which will begin next week,” it said.

PHE South East deputy director for health protection Trish Mannes said PHE had been monitoring cases at the site since late October and was “satisfied that the organisation is working hard to implement Covid-19 secure measures in their workplace and we will continue to provide support through this period”.

“As Covid-19 is circulating in the wider community it has not been possible to identify any single source and we know with similar outbreaks that transmission in the community as well as at the workplace plays an important role. As a result of this and the high numbers, PHE and Kent County Council are working with Bakkavor to carry out testing among staff.”

Bakkavor has struggled with Covid outbreaks at its facilities throughout the year. In August it confirmed more than 70 workers at its Newark dessert factory had tested positive for the virus after a mass round of on-site testing. 

The deaths sparked calls from union GMB for Bakkavor to offer full pay to anyone taking Covid-related absence. 

“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,” said GMB organiser Frank Macklin. “That’s the most important step they can take to eradicate this outbreak.” 

GMB has lodged a formal collective grievance, “as we believe the health and safety of our members has been seriously compromised at the factory”, said Macklin.

A Bakkavor spokesman said it was ”doing what is economically viable” and was “looking introduce enhanced outbreak pay for staff and we will share details on this in the coming days after we have spoken with our staff”.