According to the UK government, those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery, as well as those essential to the provision of other key goods (for example hygienic and veterinary medicines) are classified as key workers and therefore are asked to continue working, with schools and nurseries being kept open to provide care for their children.
Those not deemed key workers are expected to keep their children away from schools and nurseries for an indefinite period.
Meat industry impact
As the coronavirus situation grows, UK meat industry trade bodies have appealed to the government for more support for its workers.
British Meat Processors Association chief executive Nick Allen explained that biggest threat is the impact of Covid-19 on the workforce.
“Meat processing is highly labour intensive, with large numbers of staff working at close quarters. While the Food Standards Agency has assured the public that infection cannot be spread via food, the risk here is that infected workers cause either whole shifts to be shut down or critical skills to be temporarily lost from the workforce for 14 days.
“It is therefore essential that healthy workers come to work and sick workers, and those at risk due to an infection in their household, stay at home in line with government policy. But, there is a serious risk that waged workers will not stay at home for statutory sick pay of £94.25 per week, which is less than a quarter of typical wages in the meat processing sector.”
Allen said that large processing operations are also vulnerable because Business Interruption Insurance protection does not cover losses or closure related to Covid-19, and government support for business interruptions only relates to small businesses.
“We believe it is essential that measures designed to protect businesses with fewer than 250 employees are extended to include large businesses operating in the strategically important food processing sector.
“We are also calling for sick pay for people off work with Covid 19 (voluntarily or medically) to be increased and refunded to all food companies regardless of size.
“The Republic of Ireland provides a good example of how this can work. From 9 March, it increased illness benefit from €203 to €305 per week for workers required to self-isolate due to Covid 19. This is designed to encourage responsible behaviour and initial reports suggest there has been no adverse impact on the attendance of healthy workers.”
British Poultry Council chief executive Richard Griffiths said sector workers need support. “Everyone in the poultry meat supply chain is working hard to keep the country fed and we're asking the government to support them while they continue doing this vital job. From farmers and vets who look after our birds, through butchers and engineers who keep our factories working, to drivers and distributors who get food to the shelves, it's essential that food production is prioritised during this difficult time.
“We are delighted to hear the Treasury’s commitment ‘to do everything it can’ to mitigate the effect of the pandemic on the productive capacity of the economy and preserve employment capabilities for those who are healthy. The Government must recognise food as a special case and treat it as a national security issue.
“We urge the Government to recognise the role of those working in the food supply chain and extend the business rate holiday to them. We would also like to see introduction of tax breaks for parts of the supply chain that may face financial distress.”