SA abattoir defends handling of virus

Tim Dornin |

The operator of a South Australian abattoir has defended its handling of a COVID-19 outbreak declaring the health and safety of its workers always comes first.

Supermarket giant Woolworths suspended arrangements with the Teys Australia facility, in SA’s southeast, amid union claims staff were being forced to continue to work after being infected.

In a statement, Teys said it worked strictly according to the requirements of the relevant health authorities across several states.

It said in SA from Monday, no staff members on-site would have tested positive within the past seven days. 

“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,” the statement said.

“If they meet these conditions, they must still be separated from other workers until 10 days after their diagnosis.”

Teys said this was comparable with the arrangements in NSW and Queensland and the company would continue to respond to changes across various jurisdictions.

“Contrary to misleading claims made in the public domain, no worker has been, or will be, forced to work if they are unwell,” the company said.

“In fact, we are specifically instructing our workers not to present for work if they feel unwell or they do not meet the strict requirements of the relevant state health authorities.”

On Saturday, ACTU president Michele O’Neil called on Woolworths to take action, while the retailer said it had not been involved in a decision approved by authorities to introduce exceptional temporary COVID measures at the abattoir last week.

However, it said it had decided to suspend “all supply through Tey’s South Australian facility while we work with Teys, SA Health and Safework SA to understand the protocols currently in place for their team and operations”.

A spokeswoman told AAP it expected all of its suppliers to adhere to the COVID safety protocols set by their relevant state authorities.

It was understood health officials approved the exceptional arrangements at the Naracoorte abattoir between Monday and Thursday last week to avoid significant loss of unprocessed beef.

However, those measures were no longer in place.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said the Teys management had done a good job managing the coronavirus outbreak.

“Keep in mind, this was not an Omicron outbreak at Teys, this was an Omicron outbreak in the local community which spread to Teys,” the premier said on Monday.

“They’ve been working very, very closely with SA Health to make sure that they can continue to operate in a risk-managed way.

“It is a difficult situation.”

Mr Marshall said it would be disappointing if a major retailer was no longer taking meat from the Naracoorte facility.