Coronavirus: Bakkavor boss 'threatened to sack staff who miss work amid outbreak'

  • Video report by ITV News Business and Economics Editor Joel Hills

The Bakkavor Meals factory in North London is helping to feed the nation at a time of crisis.

The fresh and frozen food processed at the site goes to Tesco, Sainsburys and Mark & Spencer.

But is Bakkavor doing enough to protect its workforce?

Last week, in an briefing to workers, a manager at the factory admitted that social distancing was not possible and threatened to sack staff who stayed at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A recording of the presentation made by Sean Madden, Bakkavor’s head of operations, at the company’s Elveden plant, was secretly filmed and has been shared with ITV News and the Guardian.

Madden told workers that the pandemic meant the company was struggling because of falling orders and labour shortages, and suggested that the vast majority of people who were at home were not suffering from the virus but “couldn’t be bothered” to come to work.

He went on to tell the company’s employees and agency staff that they would be first in line for future redundancies if they missed work when they were not sick – even though some may have underlying health conditions or family members displaying symptoms.

Bakkavor meals provide to some of the country's biggest supermarkets. Credit: ITV News

The video, which clearly shows workers seated less than the two metres apart recommended by the government, depicts Madden telling staff: “If we need to get rid of 200 people’s jobs next month, I’m going to look at who turned up to work and I’m going to look at who didn’t bother turning up to work. The people who didn’t bother turning up to work, you know, they will be the first people that we have to get rid of unfortunately.”

A Bakkavor spokesman said: “We take this very seriously and are investigating the matter. We apologise to our Elveden staff for any miscommunication or worry caused. The manager in question has been given leave and prior to his return to work, he will undertake further training around his role and responsibilities and the high standards we expect of a Bakkavor manager.

“Our advice to all our staff is to stay at home if they are feeling unwell or believe they have symptoms or if they are self isolating due to members of their household displaying symptoms – points that were communicated at the staff briefing you have footage from.

As the evening shift arrived, Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer said they plan to investigate. Credit: Bakkavor

“Bakkavor fully complies with yesterday’s updated [Public Health England] PHE guidelines for food processing plants as part of its guidance to manufacturing and processing businesses.

"The UK government has classified our employees as key workers and as a food business our established controls for managing both people and food safety within our manufacturing operations are robust and naturally provide a strong base to build our Covid-19 controls on.”

Andre Marques, a London organiser at the GMB union which has members on the Elveden site, said: “This behaviour is absolutely shocking. It is beyond unacceptable to threaten workers with the sack just for trying to keep themselves and their families safe.”

As the evening shift arrived, Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer said they plan to investigate.

Tesco said “the health and safety of everyone waiting in our supply chain is a priority”.

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know