Labour department calls for official hearing after death of two poultry workers at Astral facility

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Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi.
Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi.
  • Department of Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi has visited families of the two men who died at a poultry farm in Paarl, Western Cape.
  • The workers were on their normal work rounds when they detected an offensive smell coming from the bottom of a pit.
  • The department said it is awaiting a full report on the incident and would be supporting the families. 

Minister of the Department of Employment and Labour, Thulas Nxesi has called for an official hearing following the death of two poultry workers and injuries to five other people at the Astral Foods facility in Paarl last week.

According to the department, workers were busy with normal work duties a week ago when they sensed an offensive smell coming from the bottom of a pit.

"According to a worker, his colleague went into the pit to investigate but was overwhelmed by the strong odour and collapsed. The supervisor rushed to assist the worker but also collapsed," said ministry spokesperson Sabelo Mali.

News24 previously reported that Astral, which is SA’s largest poultry producer, said on Thursday that the incident took place while the men were working at the waste disposal plant, "which is separate to the main plant and which does not have any septic pits".

READ | Labour dept to help injured workers, families of deceased after fatal incident at Astral facility

The two employees developed breathing difficulties, with both of them succumbing to their injuries. A further six were sent to hospital for observation, with five being kept overnight on Sunday.

All employees have since been discharged from the hospital, and the cause of their breathing difficulties is under investigation, the company said.

On Friday the minister visited the company as well as families of those affected by the incident and said the department would also be "looking at the company" to make sure it was complying with regulations.

Speaking to News24, spokesperson Mali said Nxesi had wrapped up his Cape Town visit on Saturday by going to the Mitchells Plain home of one of the deceased employees.

"We spoke to the deceased's mother and grandmother and assured the family that officials in the Western Cape will give their full support to the family." Mali added. "On issues of compensation and UIF, the minister has indicated where necessary officials should support the victims." 

The department said on matters of compensation and UIF, the department officials will support them once the official report comes back of what exactly transpired on the fateful day.

"On Friday we met with the management of the company to get a full understanding of what happened, as well as visiting the site where the deceased lost their life. One of the deceased men lived in Paarl and a form of memorial service was held for him, which the minister attended. He also spoke to the family and assured them they have the support of the department," Mali said.

Asked whether part of the site had been closed down, Astral Foods referred News24 to an earlier statement which stated that the "pit has been declared safe in conjunction with the fire department following the incident".

That statement issued on Thursday said that thorough cleaning of the area had been undertaken and that any preventative action determined from the investigation would be immediately implemented.

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