A MAJOR Antrim employer has said it is ‘moving to a voluntary minimal operational workforce’ after workers voiced fears for their safety amidst the COVID-19 crisis.
A number of people have contacted the Antrim Guardian in recent days, claiming that the equipment made in the Sensata factory in the town’s Technology Park is ‘not essential’, and yet workers were asked to either come to work or take statutory sick pay, use ‘authorised absence’ or holiday allowance.
The firm makes tyre pressure monitors for cars.
Amongst the hundreds of employees, those with health vulnerabilities or families at risk were asked to work on a production line where ‘social distancing’ of two metres was impossible, it has been claimed.
There were other allegations that hand sanitizer dispensers were frequently empty.
One worker contacted the Antrim Guardian to ask: “Is a tyre pressure monitor an essential item at this particular time when we all know what an essential service is?
“Have they any regard for safety or is supplying the customer more important?
“Does the manufacture of a tyre pressure monitor relieve the pressure on the health service? Is it a special piece of medical kit?
“It has been reported that all major car companies are on lock down for the purpose of protecting their workforce and their loved ones.
“Distancing is impossible based on the nature of machinery, the manufacturing of the monitors and the general layout in the workplace.
“Anyone who has taken it upon themselves to self isolate because of the underlying medical conditions outlined by the government have been asked to go through the normal practice of self certification and fit notes.
“This is not relieving the pressure on our GPs at all and putting a lot of stress on the person trying to obtain these things.
“We are only too aware of the importance of keeping our jobs but as one of the largest employers in Northern Ireland, we should follow other manufacturing facilities at this time.”
Another concerned family member called the Antrim Guardian, saying she feared for her children’s health, as her partner was being asked to work in close proximity to others on a production line before coming home in the evening.
A spokesperson for Sensata said: “As a global company with employees across the Americas, Europe and China, we have been navigating the COVID-19 situation since January.
“The health and safety of our people is a priority at this time and we have implemented many measures to ensure that Sensata’s sites in Northern Ireland are operating in line with the government’s requirements on social distancing and personal hygiene.
“These steps to date have included asking everyone who can work from home to adopt this strategy, cancelling all face to face meetings, introducing hand sanitizing points at all entrances and exits and prohibiting all non-essential visitors from entering the sites.
“We recognise that this is a very difficult situation and that there is a lot of uncertainty for our employees which is why from today we will also be moving to a voluntary minimal operational workforce.
“We expect that the current pandemic is likely to have an impact on our business for the coming two to three months and we are mindful that we need to ensure that we have a viable, thriving business for the long-run.
“We will continue to maintain the strictest of safety measures to try to ensure our team’s health while on site.”
Employees have been told that ‘the government is allowing manufacturing to remain open’ and that employees who do not feel comfortable working for any reason, will be able to use holiday entitlement or bonus protected ‘authorised absence’ to cover non-working hours.
Earlier in the year it was announced that Sensata’s site in Carrickfergus would close in early 2021 with the loss of almost 300 jobs.
*Full story in next Tuesday’s Antrim Guardian.
*Picture by Dave Pettard