This morning, around 1,000 workers at Moy Park in Portadown and 80 staff at ABP Meats in Lurgan have walked out over inadequate health and safety conditions. Both workforces in these very profitable firms are organised by Unite.The union had put forward proposals regarding social distancing, PPE and sanitation procedures to both employers.

These were ignored, including – in the case of Moy Park – the call for deep cleans of workstations previously used by staff who have since had to self-isolate due to Covid-like symptoms! On that basis, union workplace reps and officers organised walkouts.This is precisely the kind of action we need. There are reports of similar problems in countless workplaces, including Royal Mail, civil service offices and call centres. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet seen the same leadership in defending health and safety from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) or other unions.On BBC Radio Ulster this morning, Stephen Nolan suggested to a Communication Workers’ Union representative that workers in Royal Mail could be called out if their workplace is unsafe. Unfortunately, the union rep said it was “not that simple” due to anti-union laws.

However, under Regulation 8 of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act (1996), all workers have a right to refuse work, without discipline or loss of pay, if they perceive there is a serious and imminent risk to their health and safety.Regardless, this is a public health emergency and essential workers cannot be asked to sacrifice their own well being.

No constraints should be accepted in defending the health and safety of workers. If unions take action now, they will have overwhelming public support.The action by these workers should be held up by ICTU as an example of how to respond to unsafe working conditions, with a guarantee that any workers who follow suit – organised or not, whether to shut non-essential workplaces without loss of pay or demand adequate safety measures in essential sectors – will have the full backing of the trade union movement.Join the

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