I am saddened and hugely concerned by the Coronavirus outbreak amongst workers at the 2 Sisters chicken processing plant in Llangefni. I wish all those who have fallen ill or tested positive with this terrible virus a fast and full recovery.
At the beginning of this crisis the UK Government rightly recognised people working in food production and retail as Essential Workers. The 2 Sisters group produces a third of all poultry products consumed in the UK and throughout this pandemic the workforce at the Llangefni site have been steadfast in their work in keeping our nation fed. Whilst so many people have been able to minimise their risk of infection through working from home or being furloughed, these options have not been available to the 2 Sisters workforce. This situation, which mirrors similar outbreaks in meat processing plants across Europe, highlights the enormous risks faced by people working in this crucial sector. We should all be hugely grateful for the contribution that the 2 Sisters employees have made, and the courage that they have demonstrated, in supporting the fight against Covid-19 by ensuring that the supermarket shelves have remained stocked.
The closure of the plant is the correct course of action. My thoughts are now with the entire workforce and their families. It is crucial that, after contributing so much, that they are not now faced with financial hardship. Following urgent talks with 2 Sisters senior management, union officials and UK Ministers, I am delighted that the 2 Sisters Group have confirmed that full pay will be awarded to all workers.
Although the initial closure of the plant is for a two week period it is vital for the safety of the workforce and of their families, along with the safety of communities across Ynys Môn, that the plant remains closed until an independent health and safety audit is carried out and that all recommended safety measures are implemented. The review, and the implementation of improved safety measures, must be assessed by Anglesey County Council, the Health and Safety Executive and Public Health Wales before production recommences.
It is also crucial that both the review, and its findings, are completely transparent. 2 Sisters must communicate with both its employees and with people across our island to assure them that every possible measure is being taken to minimise the risk of another outbreak. We must all remember that 2 Sisters is one of the largest employers on the island and that the company has made an invaluable contribution to our local economy. Similar factories across Europe and throughout the world have experienced similar outbreaks and we must not blame the workers for what has happened or seek retribution against the factory. The priority must be to support all those affected by this outbreak and to learn the lessons that are required to ensure that the outbreak is contained and not repeated.
The UK Government has assisted businesses and workers throughout the United Kingdom with unprecedented levels of financial support and I am liaising with the management of the plant to ensure that, through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, none of the workers are left without pay in the possible event that the closure lasts longer than the initial two weeks.
So far, through the efforts of everyone across the island, Ynys Môn has had a low incidence rate of Covid-19. The closure of the plant, for as long as necessary to ensure the safety of the workforce and wider community, is sensible. I am grateful for the swift response of the Armed Forces in assisting Public Health Wales in carrying out the mass testing of workers, a crucial step in containing this outbreak.