What is really happening inside Corby's Tayto factory? Staff have disputed the crisp firm's claims that it made in a letter to workers last Thursday (May 14).
The factory has been the centre of a coronavirus outbreak and confirmed there were six cases last Monday (May 11) but since then has refused to comment on the number of cases, which staff say has since risen to between 16 and 20.
The company’s group operation director, Martin McElhinney wrote to staff and said: “Tayto Group takes the health and safety of our employees extremely seriously and has been following the latest Government guidelines throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
"Since early March we have implemented social distancing, enhanced cleaning and have changed the way we operate to allow employees to work safely in light of the challenges of coronavirus."
However staff have been raising numerous concerns with the Northants Telegraph disputing what Tayto have said.
All members of staff are still requesting anonymity over fears for their jobs. One worker said: “We are incredibly concerned about the conditions in our workplace but are scared of any backlash from the company. We desperately need to keep our jobs but are worried for our health.”
Disputing the letter from Tayto, one worker said: “The bits that Tayto have stated, there were no social distancing measures in early March.
“The new times for clocking in and out didn’t come in until late March, early April.
“We only got extra canteen seating in the form of a portacabin about two weeks ago. The new seating arrangements of three to a table came in on Monday (May 11) and so did the segregation of the smoking shelter.
“Yes, they have sectioned off the tables in the canteen into threes, but we are still not two metres apart.”
In terms of the factory’s operations changing to allow for safer working conditions, the staff member said: “It’s all running as normal apart from staggered clocking in and out times, which I will admit have really helped with a busy changing room but nothing else has really happened.
“It’s as if nothing has changed.”
When asked last Friday (May 15) about employee concerns and Corby’s MP referring the situation to the authorities, a spokesman for the company said Tayto did not wish to comment at this time.Others have echoed concerns and also suggested the staggered shifts did not initially solve issues with social distancing with several workers describing a narrow corridor they had to walk down to access the factory floor.
One said: “It’s impossible to stay two metres apart in a corridor that is one metre wide.”
Another said there was now 15 minutes between shifts ending and starting, but added: “You still pass people in the corridor and when you get to the changing room there are people in there who have just finished and others getting ready to go in.”
Over the weekend (Saturday, May 16), a tent appeared outside the Tayto factory and several workers said this was to help implement a one-way system within the factory so those leaving do not pass those arriving.
But once on the production lines in the factory, workers have said it’s impossible to have two metres distance.
One worker said: “Social distancing is difficult partly because of noise and partly because the factory isn’t designed for distance working.
“As with many factories, machines are placed next to each other.”
A member of staff who works in packing said: “The packing areas are in no way safe and have absolutely no social distancing in place.”
Staff have also said there is no additional cleaning between shifts. One person said they believed the factory had not closed for cleaning for several hours after the first confirmed case.
They said: “There was a notice confirming one case (on Thursday, May 7), we were still told to carry on working. By 5pm there was six confirmed.
“It’s true they cancelled overtime (on) Friday and Saturday but despite the six confirmed cases they kept the factory running production as normal until 10pm.”
Staff also expressed concern about a lack of protective clothing. A relative of one worker said: “They have what they usually wear. Hard hat, safety boots, overalls, ear protection, hair nets. Nothing else.
“Workers entered the factory with face masks (and) they have been asked to leave and remove the masks and then come back.”
Another person said: “I got challenged for taking three pairs of gloves in a shift a few weeks ago because there was a ‘glove shortage’ but I’m yet to see any indication of PPE like masks.”
Many workers said they had raised these concerns with their management, but say they had very little response and some even say the atmosphere has become threatening.
One member of staff said: “We have all raised concerns and worries and nothing is being done.”
They added: “I feel as if we are just numbers to them, they don't actually care about us, they just want to keep churning out the product, regardless of whether or not we are safe.”
One person said others they knew at work were reluctant to speak out: “It's so hard to get anyone to talk. The fear of losing their jobs is too much.”
Another said: “They are trying to scaremonger people now saying if the factory shuts for a week it will not reopen if people don’t stop talking and reporting things to the ET (Northants Telegraph).
“(It’s) shocking treatment people are getting just for asking valid questions because we are all worried for ourselves and family.”
The fear has led to many workers being tested to see if they have the virus. It's understood two staff tested positive and have never shown any symptoms.
One person said: “There’s a lot of people off, some are just too scared to work, others have been for tests and cannot return until they have their results.”
Another person added: "Some have quit their jobs, but most are just not coming into work for their own safety.”
However, this is not an option for everyone and another person added: “Many are only minimum or just above minimum wage and cannot afford time off.”
Most want there to be some sort of action. One said: “In my opinion, we as a factory should have been closed when this all started. We aren’t an essential food and there is no need for us to be open.
“I think the factory needs to close and have a proper deep clean and all the staff to be tested before being allowed to re-enter the factory and those of us that have or will test positive should be paid the seven days we have to take off.”
Another worker said: “Tayto do need to take further action to stop the spread.”
And another added: “Let's hope it doesn't resort to deaths for drastic action.”