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Alliance Group paused processing across its plant network yesterday to reconfigure its operations in line with Alert Level 4 standards and give staff an opportunity to make suitable home arrangements, such as childcare, chief executive David Surveyor said.
However, staff at the Oamaru freezing works had still been working "shoulder-to-shoulder" until Wednesday night, several workers told the Otago Daily Times.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, staff said they were not confident new measures would be sufficient.
Many were prepared to walk off the job if necessary.
There was also concern about co-workers who could have been exposed to the virus and whether management reacted quickly enough sending them home, with no communication of a possible health threat to other workers.
"We have serious concerns about the people making decisions for our welfare," one staff member said.
"We’ve already been thrown to the wolves by the company."
Because Alliance was Oamaru’s largest employer, it was putting the entire North Otago community at risk, staff members said.
NZ Meat Workers and Related Trades Union Otago-Southland secretary Gary Davis said Pukeuri plant staff were not alone in their concerns.
"We’re getting various reports from all [Alliance] plants, but it’s fair to say the company hasn’t been ready for this."
Workers who wanted to be at home in lockdown should be able to, and continue to be paid, he said.
"We’ve got people who feel uncomfortable about being in the atmosphere ... at the moment, some people feel pretty upset about the whole thing," he said.
"The company should just ask people who want to stay at home to put their hand up."
Alliance Group had now introduced alternative ways of working, physical distancing, increased cleaning and disinfection of processing areas, the use of personal protective equipment and sites had closed to non-essential personnel, Mr Surveyor said.
"We know that in the red meat sector and other essential service industries, some people will be concerned about coming to work when other parts of the country are in lockdown," he said.
Mr Surveyor encouraged staff to raise "any questions about our procedures and policies" with the company.
"Success for us is keeping people safe, processing farmers’ livestock to prevent potential animal welfare issues, preserving peoples jobs and supporting our local communities," he said.
Alliance Group was "examining the detail of the Government’s wage subsidy scheme", Mr Surveyor said.