Food manufacturing workers are said to be staying home over safety fears

There has been a sharp rise in the number of food and drink sector workers staying at home after the prime minister sent the UK into lockdown this week

The industry is calling on the government to encourage workers in the food sector to return to work, in order to avert further shortages.

This was the key discussion topic during the first session of the government’s newly formed Food Resilience Industry Forum, dubbed ‘the War Room’ today.

The group heard that many workers, particularly in the manufacturing side of the industry, are choosing to stay at home over fears about safety and confusion about social distancing measures within factories and warehouses.

The Grocer understands about 20% of factory workers for one major supplier are currently opting to stay at home.

The concern that such absences could lead to further shortages has prompted those in the War Room to call on government to publicly call on workers to return to work in a way it has already done with NHS staff.

“Without intervention we are looking at failures in the food supply chain,” said one senior industry source.

It is also understood that some food sector workers have been told to return to their homes by police, and have in some instances incurred fines.

During the meeting, Defra agreed to issue a letter for key workers to use to allow them to move around more freely.

FDF employment and access to labour policy manager Mark Harrison said: “Any worker who is working in the food chain or a support businesses is eligible for key worker status and therefore can continue to go to work if it is safe for them to do so.

“Food and drink manufacturers have more robust health and safety measures in place than most workplaces and we applaud those that have taken the initiative during the Covid-19 outbreak by implementing additional measures. These have included taking the temperatures of staff, implementing social distancing, and ensuring that the smallest number of workers are in one place at one time, with all those who are able to work from home doing so.

“Public Health England have now published guidance on how to operate in food and drink manufacturing during the outbreak and we are supporting all our members to ensure their working practices are as safe as possible.”

As reported last weekend, the Food Resilience Industry Forum is being headed up by GS1 chair and former Nestlé supply chain chief Chris Tyas.