June 25, 2020

Court orders JBS to test workers as COVID-19 cases rise in Brazil meat plants



Labour prosecutors ordered on Tuesday JBS SA to test all workers at a Rio Grande do Sul meat facility for COVID-19, Reuters reported.


On the same day, they raised the number of meatpacking plants with confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus to 32.


JBS declined to comment on the decision, saying the plant remained open.


State prosecutors said a labour court ruled that JBS should test all workers at its Três Passos plant in five days, as well as put on paid leave any employees who test positive for COVID-19, for a minimum of 14 days.


Slaughterhouses in 23 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul state, the country's southernmost state, registered COVID-19 cases among food plant workers. The state is Brazil's third-largest chicken exporter and producer.


To date, some 4,957 workers at meat plants have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, 25.14% of the state's total 19,710 cases, the labour prosecutors said. That proportion was as high as 35% at one point, as Brazil became the world's No. 2 hot spot for the COVID-19 pandemic, behind only the US.


There are more than 1.1 million people infected and 52,000 deaths from COVID-19 in Brazil.


Five employees from Rio Grande do Sul's meatpacking plants and 12 relatives or friends of people working in the industry died because of the disease, the labour prosecutors said.


JBS and rival BRF SA, which also operates in the region, had plants closed there and in other states because of outbreaks.


The pandemic has not affected Rio Grande do Sul's output or exports so far, according to José Eduardo do Santos, executive director at Asgav, the state's producers association.


He said that the state's chicken exports rose by 64.5% to 281,400 tonnes between January and May, generating US$403 million in the period.


Meatpackers became hotbeds for the COVID-19 contagion as employees often work at densely packed workstations in cold, virus-preserving environments.


The meat industry employs an estimated 65,000 in Rio Grande do Sul, the labour prosecutors said.