In fear of retaliation, lack of payment and losing their jobs, 51 percent of food industry workers report to work sick.
The food industry and food growth industry are two of the largest sectors in the U.S. economy. Employing millions of people, the sectors are however poorly regulated in the terms of paid medical leave or do not provide any medical leave at all.
As such, a recent survey conducted by the Center for Research and Public Policy on behalf of Alchemy Systems found that 51 percent of food industry workers report to work sick. The numbers haven’t changed much over the years. Nonetheless, the potential public health concerns raised under these circumstance deserve a second thought.
People who produce, prepare and serve our food are forced by a number of factors to show up at work even while being sick. Of the 51 percent, the majority stated that they frequently or always report to their workplace while being sick. 38 percent of those surveyed answered that they sometimes go to work being sick.
Last year, food industry workers infected with the norovirus were linked with the majority of disease outbreaks due to food consumption. However, food industry workers are aware of the risks they face, as well as the risks their customers may face. 9 out of 10 of those surveyed replied that they are responsible for the safety of customers they serve.
Nonetheless, losing paid days is not something they can afford. 45 percent of those polled cited losing pay as the main reason for continuing to go to work sick. Another 46 percent cited loyalty to their co-workers as the main reason. The survey polled 1,200 food industry workers from Canada and the U.S.
Jose Oliva, who is the co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance stated:
“A lot of these workers actually depend on every single one of the days that they work for money. So if you don’t go to work, you don’t get paid.”
In addition, a different study conducted in 2012 by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United in association with the Oliva’s Food Chain Workers Alliance, found that 79 percent of workers in the industry did not benefit from paid sick days. At the time, 53 percent of those surveyed reported working while they were sick.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics brought the argument of low wages in the discussion. The food industry has the lowest paid jobs in the U.S.
The results of the survey pinpoint the need for more regulation and the improvement of food industry workers situation, both in terms of wage and of paid medical leave in order to avoid serious public health issues.
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