Union's £200 turkey worker lifeline

Workers struggling to make ends meet after being laid off by Bernard Matthews are to get a £200 lifeline.The highly unusual payment is being made by the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) to its members who have been laid off for more than a month after sales slumped in the wake of the bird flu outbreak.

Workers struggling to make ends meet after being laid off by Bernard Matthews are to get a £200 lifeline.

The highly unusual payment is

being made by the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) to its members who have been laid off for more than a month after sales slumped in the wake of the bird flu outbreak.

About 100 workers will get the cash, with a possibility that more may receive it once those laid off more recently have gone more than a month without work.

Bernard Matthews has laid off 277 workers from its factories in Great Witchingham and Holton, near Halesworth, although seven have since been taken back to work. Sales slumped by 40pc in the wake of the H5N1 virus being found at the company's farm in Holton, and have barely recovered since.

Miles Hubbard, regional industrial organiser for the T&G, said the money had come from the union's benevolent fund.

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He said: "This is a very unusual step. We are cautious about giving out money, because it is our members' money and it is usually only used in disputes and that kind of thing. It is not something we would normally do, but we recognised that the circumstances around the H5N1 outbreak happened quickly and people had no time to prepare for these unforeseen circumstances.

"We have done everything in our power to bring down funding from European and central government for compensation but sadly to no avail. We are disappointed that measures which were put in place in similar circumstances in Spain and Italy have not been replicated in the UK.

"We are disappointed that there hasn't been any other help forthcoming but we are pleased we are able to come through for our members."

The laid-off workers, most of

whom are Portuguese, have been struggling to make ends meet. Many are in the situation of Ludovina Landeiro, 45, who recently told the EDP that she had been unable to pay her rent.

Those laid off are entitled to state benefits but have had no money from Bernard Matthews, apart from a one-off payment of £100 plus £19.60 a day for the first week. The sum of £200 has been chosen because it is the most that the laid-off workers can get without it affecting their benefits.

Mr Hubbard asked union members who have moved and not updated their details to contact the union at 39 Thorpe Road, Norwich, or 01603 624052, otherwise they will not receive the payment.