Workers tell of turkey cull

Four of the workers who toiled through the weekend to kill 159,000 turkeys at the Bernard Matthews farm described yesterday the scenes inside the sheds.

Four of the workers who toiled through the weekend to kill 159,000 turkeys at the Bernard Matthews farm described yesterday the scenes inside the sheds.

The four Portuguese men, who were among only 15 people carrying out the cull on the farm and factory on Saturday night, volunteered after Bernard Matthews offered them £20 an hour to carry out the work.

Only six Portuguese workers turned up for the shift as the thousands of others stayed away.

The four men said they were all concerned for their health, but did the job for the money - over £800 by the time they finished their last shift at 8am this morning.

The men, Dando Niguel, Joãn Gomes, Richard Zola and André Lacerda, who are all aged 21 and based temporarily at Yarmouth, described how they killed around 10,000 birds on the first night as Bernard Matthews offered bonuses for getting the cull done quickly.

The six workers took a taxi to the plant on Saturday afternoon after managers told them of the extra pay. They began a 12-hour shift at 6pm after the order to destroy the whole flock was given by Defra.

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Kitted out in full protective gear, which was destroyed every two hours when the men took 15-minute breaks, they worked though the night.

Three of the men described how they had to catch turkeys at the farm, put them in plastic crates and on to trucks which were sent to the factory to be gassed.

Mr Gomes told how he was part of the eight-strong team loading the dead birds on to the lorries on route for Staffordshire.

They were all given anti-viral drugs before they started work and will have tests in the near future to check they have not picked up the virus.

Mr Gomes said: "We needed the money. I am not too worried.

"We have had the injection and the birds did not touch our skin."

And he said: "No one else would do it. The others thought we were crazy, but after we did our first shift others also volunteered as they saw we were OK."

Mr Niguel said around 70 workers turned up the next day.

And Mr Zola added: "We were working very, very fast.

"We were getting the birds into the boxes - bang, bang, bang as we were offered the bonus for speed."

All four men, who are from Lisbon, had only been in the country for a week when the outbreak was announced.

Rumours were flying around the factory on Friday that bird flu had been found, but most people did not believe it, said another factory worker, Elisabete Ferreira.

She said she was going to have the vaccination but that Bernard Matthews still had not told them anything about the health risks, saying she had heard there was little risk from the television.

But she said most people in the Portuguese community were more worried about possible job losses then catching the disease.

She said: "I want to know if I still have a job.

"People will be afraid to eat Bernard Matthews's products so maybe we will have no work."