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Economy Minister Diane Dodds today joined forces with Agriculture Minister Edwin Poots to send a message of support to workers in Northern Ireland’s agri-food and retail sectors.

Both Ministers were keen to stress that our farmers, food processors and shop workers deliver an essential service to the people of Northern Ireland by maintaining the supply chain and putting food on our tables during the COVID-19 crisis.

They were also keen to emphasise that the safety of workers is - and will remain - the number one priority.

Minister Dodds said: Our agri-food and retail sectors are part of the frontline response to this crisis. They deserve the thanks of the entire community for working round the clock to put food on our table.

“While many in the community can work at home, they continue to clock on at farms, factories and shops. Therefore these workers must be protected in the workplace.

"All employers have a duty to ensure that they are. Their safety is non-negotiable.

“And each of us has a duty to protect ourselves and keep those around us safe. My message to employers and workers alike is: please follow the guidance; maintain a distance of two metres from others and wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds.”

She concluded: “We will get through this crisis much better if we help each other.”

DAERA Minister Edwin Poots said: “COVID-19 presents a significant challenge to us all and there is no doubt that challenge is felt deeply in the agri-food and retail sectors. Food production is sometimes taken for granted, but in this time of crisis, we are starkly reminded that it is an absolutely essential service and is a vital part of the government’s response to COVID-19.

“I want to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of workers on farms, in processing plants, working in distribution and across the retail sector – your hard work and resilience is putting food on our tables and we must never forget that. I am sure I speak for us all when I say thank you.

“Recent events show that an even sharper focus is needed on protecting staff, to allow the food supply chain to keep moving. I want to recognise the lengths that employers have gone to so far to safeguard their workforce and I welcome the protocols being brought forward by the sector to give greater assurances and protection to their employees and we will work with employers in helping safeguard their vital staff.

“Our primary goal in all of this is protecting our people, and part of that is having a functioning and responsive food industry. We are all fighting COVID-19 together, and our food production workforce are a key part of that fightback.”

He concluded: “There is no second chance at this. Let’s get this right, and get it right now.”