HelloFresh says conditions have been 'extensively' improved at Banbury food packing company
The company recruiting 400 more people to a meal-kit packing plant in Banbury says it has improved conditions to guard against risk of coronavirus infection.
HelloFresh says it has taken steps to improve social distancing at the factory, which had around 100 staff but aims to increase that to 500 to meet raised demand for its boxed foods.
New initiatives include two-metre markers, changes in shift patterns and plexiglass dividers in the factory.
In reports, photos and video sent to the Banbury Guardian workers and people going for inductions complained that workers were 'shoulder-to-shoulder' on the assembly line. Others said there were too many people congregating closely in the canteen and that conditions were unsafe according to the government's coronavirus advice for social distancing.
Three people who contacted the paper said they had left after one day because they could not risk the conditions.
One of them, Tim Berrie said: "Although there was two-metre distance outside when you got inside to book in there wasn't. We were then told to go upstairs to an office to fill out our application forms in a room there were at least 60 people. Tables had eight sat on there, some had seven or six to a table coughing and not putting their hands over their mouths .
"Congregating outside in car park groups of eight people. It made me feel ill as I have just come back from self isolation myself 14 days with my partner and a son who has a rare blood disorder."
And another who left said: "Absolutely zero social distancing you could smell people's breath - people were being treated like cattle."
She said few people spoke English but had no choice but to continue working there as they needed their minimum wage.
A spokesman for HelloFresh said: "“We have introduced extensive measures to ensure our team follow the distancing rules and to continue to provide our product to our customers who welcome the delivery of food in these challenging times. We hold ourselves to the highest standards in all we do and do not believe the allegations are a true or accurate reflection of our operations, which are monitored and recently approved by the relevant authorities.
"We have implemented extensive measures to enable employees to adhere to social distancing guidelines, including two-meter markings throughout the facility, introducing additional exit and entry points, staggering breaks and increasing bus sizes. We are also finalising the process of installing plexiglass dividers on the production line.
"Everyone on the warehouse floor wears protective gear, including masks and gloves. Workers receive a new mask every shift and we have increased the cleaning and disinfecting cycle. Hand sanitiser is available throughout the facility and accessible by everyone within the centre. The local authorities have been taken through the measures we are taking, which have been approved.”
Helen Doughty, spokesperson for Meridian said: "The Health and Safety of our temporary workers is of paramount importance to us. We have written to all of our temporary workers with guidelines on preventing the spread of infection and general safe practice. All practices put into place relating to the Covid-19 outbreak on the HelloFresh site are in line with and in some cases exceed Government advice.
"Meridian delivers the HelloFresh induction program to all Meridian temporary workers prior to them commencing work. This is a robust and detailed process. Meridian has worked with HelloFresh to make changes to the induction format to ensure social distancing.
"Where we do provide transport, all temporary staff are required to complete a health questionnaire before boarding buses. Extra measures include additional buses to allow for social distancing and the provision of hand sanitizer and gloves. In addition, each bus is deep cleaned after every journey.
"We have increased our on-site presence for the check in/out for shift change and other measures have been put in place such as one in/one out, barriers and limiting workers in reception."
New powers in the Coronavirus Act give powers to take action against companies not allowing social distancing have been given to police.
A spokesman for Thames Valley Police said: "The Government has been clear that it expects people to do the right thing in order to protect the NHS and save lives. We will continue to encourage and support our communities to comply fully with these restrictions.
"If anyone is concerned about a potential breach of the regulations, we encourage them to call us on 101."