The western suburbs meat company said workers were given the option not to attend the meeting if they felt unsafe and insisted they adhered to physical-distancing guidelines and that employees were broken up into groups.
A senior employee, who asked not to be named because it could endanger his job, told The Age that employees were “bunched up” at the meeting.
“You bring all these guys in a week after you know about positive cases, and they’re just standing around talking. It spread on that morning, of course it did,” the employee said.
A spokeswoman for the company said workers were split into five groups, the largest including 70 people and the smallest made up of 15. The groups met for no more than 15 minutes in an indoor lunchroom large enough to ensure workers spread out, she said.
Cedar Meats said it had been in discussions with the Victorian Health Department to conduct on-site testing for its workforce. The senior employee said some workers believed they were coming on site to get tested by the Health Department.
The company decided against on-site testing, and asked its workforce to gather to discuss where to get tested and how to ensure they did not infect others in the community.
The company opted not to provide this information digitally because its workforce is comprised largely of non-native English speakers, making communication more difficult.
The Health Department did not answer questions about whether it had told Cedar Meats it would conduct on-site testing. A spokeswoman said in a statement that it had “provided Cedar Meats with information about a range of nearby testing facilities to ensure the testing could happen as quickly as possible”.
Quarantined workers are not subject to the same isolation policy applied to returned travellers, who are not allowed to leave their hotel room other than for medical care.
“The health and safety of those in hotels is managed through the use of physical distancing, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment by staff and hotel guests,” said a Health Department spokeswoman.
An infection-control consultant hired by the Health Department has been overseeing the workers’ quarantine period at the hotel and random checks are conducted to see if workers are in their rooms.
Paul is a reporter for The Age.