Woolworths reacts to fury over supplier's 'outrageous' Covid act

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·News Reporter
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There has been widespread fury at Woolworths after the supermarket's meat supplier, Teys Australia, continued to operate while staff were infected with Covid-19.

Teys Australia had asked asymptomatic staff members to return to work at its Naracoorte abattoir, in southeast South Australia, even if they were infected with coronavirus.

But if they felt unwell, they were told to stay at home.

A worker told The Guardian anyone infected with coronavirus was required to wear a white hairnet, while those who tested negative were given yellow ones.

“I’ve seen unwell people still come to work,” the worker told the publication.

“They still have a runny nose, they have coughs, they still have sore throats.”

A Google Maps image of a Teys Australia office. Teys supplies meat to Woolworths.
Teys Australia is a supplier for Woolworths. Source: Google Maps, file

'This endangers all of us'

The Covid-19 pandemic has recently led to issues with meat supply chains across Australia leaving some supermarket shelves bare of chicken, beef and pork.

Coles has been forced to tell customers they can only buy two containers of chicken and other products while KFC has been forced to take a number of items off its menus.

Woolworths has also had to introduce strict product limits.

However, news of the sick workers did not go down well on Twitter.

One woman called on Woolworths to tell Teys Australia not to make people work with coronavirus.

“This endangers all of us. Companies treating people like this will not be forgotten,” she tweeted.

One man tweeted calling for people not to buy meat from the supermarket, while another woman said she would boycott the supermarket as the hashtag "WTFwoolies" started trending on Twitter on Saturday.

“It must be stopped, if nothing else people need time to recover,” a second woman tweeted.

A person slicing cooked beef at home. People have also expressed their outrage at Woolworths over its meat supplier's Covid policy.
Teys Australia said it had not forced anyone to show up for work while feeling ill. People have also expressed their outrage at Woolworths. Source: Getty Images, file

The president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Michele O’Neill has called out Woolworths over the revelations.

"Woolworths is turning a blind eye to the exploitation of workers by a major food supplier in the supermarket's supply chain, Teys Australia, who are forcing workers to continue turning up for work even though they are infected with the Covid virus," she said.

“Workers are being forced to wear coloured hairnets to say they are infected. This is outrageous behaviour."

The union is also concerned it could set a dangerous precedent for other businesses.

Teys Australia responds to claims about Covid-positive workers

Teys Australia clarified to Yahoo News Australia it had operated “strictly according to the requirements of the relevant health authorities”.

SA Health told Yahoo News Australia the department had allowed “a small group of critical staff who have tested positive” but were asymptomatic to continue working in an isolated area away from others.

It is understood the arrangement was temporary from Monday to Thursday last week.

“SA Health has approved a limited return to work for asymptomatic individuals in roles critical to maintain supply, on the condition those individuals are feeling well and have isolated for seven days,” Teys Australia said.

“If they meet these conditions, they must still be separated from other workers until 10 days after their diagnosis. This is comparable with the arrangements that apply in NSW and Queensland. Requirements are continually changing across jurisdictions and we are responding immediately to each of these changes as they occur.”

Teys Australia said from Monday no members of its staff on site would have tested positive in the last seven days.

SA Health said the workers in question must remain at home and isolate themselves when they were not at work until they were cleared from Covid.

A general view of Woolworths and BWS in the Burwood Plaza in Sydney, Australia.
Woolworths said it expected all suppliers to follow Covid-safe protocols, and adhere to state and territory laws. Source: Getty Images

The health department also sent a response team to the abattoir.

Teys said no workers had been forced to show if they were unwell and it “specifically” asked anyone who was sick to stay home.

It added all Teys Australia employees were required to be fully vaccinated and staff used full PPE and practised social distancing.

A Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia the supermarket expected all of its suppliers to adhere to state and territory Covid laws.

“When work resumes on Monday, Teys has advised that there will be no Covid-positive team members working on site within their seven-day isolation period as required by SA Health,” a spokesperson for the supermarket said.

“We have been advised by Teys that it acted under the approval of SA Health, to implement an exceptional temporary arrangement for several days last week, in response to circumstances at the plant. These measures are no longer in place.

“We were not involved in the decision to introduce these temporary measures and we are looking into the issues raised to ensure the labour standards we set for our suppliers have been met.”

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