Update: Since publication JBS Australia has announced that the facility has reopened after a site inspector from Work Safe Victoria declared the site to be safe and ordered everybody back to work.
The UWU says JBS has agreed to a 30 minute separation between shifts, provided workers with details on cleaning regimes, and agreed to give workers a safety briefing before they start.
Staff at JBS Australia's meat processing plant in Brooklyn, Melbourne have ceased work this morning citing concerns that the company has handled site safety poorly during a COVID-19 outbreak.
The industrial action comes fifteen days after the JBS site was ordered to close by the Department of Health and Human Services and the confirmation of 71 positive cases of COVID-19 connected to the meatworks plant.
According to the United Workers Union (UWU), the Brazilian-owned company has not responded to workers' concerns about the safety of the site during this period of time.
"JBS has consistently failed their workforce by not communicating with their workers and by not consulting with their representatives," says UWU Victorian branch secretary Susie Alison.
"These workers have been battling through this crisis with almost no support. They don't want to have gone through all that only to walk back onto the floor and catch the virus.
"Workers across this country are getting wise to the way these companies think, that profit is more important than people. They are ready to fight for their safety."
In a notice to the company, JBS cold storage workers told the company that "without safe systems of work and without adequate information, instruction and training" there would be a "serious and immediate threat to health or safety, namely a high threat and degree of risk to the COVID-19 contagion".
Just last week the UWU accused JBS Australia of asking COVID-19 positive staff to return to work and reported that safety equipment including electronic thermometers was faulty.
UWU says it has heard reports of a worker who had returned to the site yesterday but had yet to complete their 14 days in isolation. That worker allegedly remained on site for more than one hour before being sent home.
Workers have also reported that social distancing measures at the Brooklyn site were inadequate, with afternoon and day shift crossing paths in a confined space with no social distancing, and balaclavas were being shared between workers.
The UWU says workers raised concerns with management that were "not taken seriously".
Staff have also allegedly been forced to isolate over the last two weeks, with many asked to draw upon their annual leave entitlements whilst others left without any income at all.
The union has been calling on JBS to provide additional paid leave for the workforce that has helped them continue to operate throughout the pandemic.
JBS Australia says it has tested its entire Brooklyn workforce and conducted a deep-clean of the entire facility.
"JBS Australia has worked hand in glove with DHHS to make the Brooklyn facility as COVID Safe as it's possible to be," says a JBS Australia spokesperson.
"Right now, our focus is on safeguarding the jobs of the 1230 Victorians who rely on us for their livelihood, safeguarding the supply of meat to both our local and export markets, and most importantly, doing whatever it is in our power to do to safeguard the health and well-being of our workers and the wider community in which we operate."
"Just yesterday, the AMIEU, with whom we have an excellent working relationship, went on record saying that they were satisfied we had done everything possible to make our workplace COVID Safe."
Updated at 9:16am AEST on 28 July 2020.
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