Bernard Matthews workers stood down

Hundreds of workers at the Bernard Matthews factory in Norfolk face being laid off in the wake of the bird flu outbreak, it was revealed this afternoon.

Hundreds of workers at the Bernard Matthews factory in Norfolk face being laid off in the wake of the bird flu outbreak, it was revealed this afternoon.

Around 130 employees at Great Witchingham will be stood down for 20 days from tomorrow, but the firm is preparing to lay off a total of 500 workers, according to the Transport and General Workers Union.

The union called on the Government to pay compensation to the industry because of the impact on sales in recent weeks. Officials pointed out that governments in Spain and Italy gave their industries financial help following similar outbreaks.

The 130 workers being laid off from tomorrow will receive a one off payment of £100 each from the company as well as some statutory payments.

Chris Kaufman, national officer of the TGWU, said: “There is European precedent for direct government support for workers whose jobs have been affected by outbreaks, and the UK government should act in the same way as the Spanish and Italian governments did in similar circumstances.

“Industry will need the full backing of its Government as it faces a challenging period. The government should also assist the workforce by ensuring that the benefits they are entitled to are processed without delay.”

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Miles Hubbard, the union's regional industrial organiser, said: “The workforce has displayed real resilience during the last couple of difficult weeks and is determined to work for a positive future for the company. The union is determined to do everything it can to defend our members' interests.”

Environment Secretary David Miliband warned today that there was a continual risk of further bird flu outbreaks. But he told the House of Commons there had so far been no re-occurrence of the virus since the cull at the Bernard Matthews factory in Suffolk.

And he indicated restrictions in the area could be lifted as early as the second week in March.

Mr |Miliband said that the investigation into the cause of the outbreak was continuing to focus on transport links between Hungary and Holton and biosecurity at the Bernard Matthews site.

Mr Miliband said there was “no evidence” that meat from restricted areas in Hungary had entered the UK food chain.

The health risk to workers at the Holton site was “very low indeed” and there was no risk to consumers provided turkey meat was properly cooked, he said.

Mr Miliband said there was “a constant low risk of bird flu to the UK and a higher risk during migration season” and that no guarantee could be given that there would be no further outbreak.