Estonian fish processing company M.V.Wool, which was recently caught up in a Listeria bacteria related scandal, told its employees it is starting to make 125 employees redundant on Dec. 14.
Most of the staff are currently involved with in-depth cleansing of the company's Harku and Vihterpalu plants and some are on forced leave, the company said.
After an injunction made by the Veterinary and Food Board with which the authority suspended the company's activity, M.V.Wool submitted a notice of collective redundancy to the Unemployment Insurance Fund. The employee information and consultation process prescribed by law is to end on Dec. 14, when M.V.Wool will begin the lay-off proceedings. The company is cooperating with the Unemployment Insurance Fund and has promised to fully support the employees to be laid off.
M.V.Wool will continue in-depth cleansing at its Harku and Vihterpalu plants, which started on Nov. 25 following an injunction by the Veterinary and Food Board, at least until the end of this week. M.V.Wool expects the Veterinary and Food Board to take new samples for testing for the presence of the listeria bacterium after the completion of in-depth cleansing.
"The ongoing in-depth cleansing and the action plan for fighting against Listeria sadly does not give M.V. Wool the guarantee that officials will allow the company to continue its activity in the near future," Meelis Vetevool, chairman of the supervisory board of M.V. Wool, said. Vetevool admitted that the company's resources are becoming depleted.
He added that the task of the Veterinary and Food Board is to clarify how their drastic steps are related to people's health or food safety in a situation where the Listeria bacterium is widespread and found everywhere in nature. "We cannot definitively rule out the possibility of the company's activity being restored, but at the moment we do not know whether this will happen this month or next or ever," Vetevool said.
The Tallinn Administrative Court on Tuesday partially granted a request for an interim injunction by M.V.Wool AS, enabling the company to remove goods purchased from other parties that are kept at the company's warehouse, such as raw materials and brokered goods, on certain conditions and under the supervision of the Veterinary and Food Board.
The scandal related to M.V.Wool first erupted in spring this year when the Danish veterinary and food authority probing an outbreak of listeriosis that had started three years ago pointed the finger at products of the Estonian company. The scandal got a new turn with reports in the media in late September that 28 people had fallen ill with listeriosis in Estonia during 2018, seven of whom died. In six of the people who fell ill and in two of the people who died Listeria bacteria of the ST1247 strain connected with said outbreak of the disease was found.
In October, M.V.Wool carried out full sterilization at its Harku plant that involved halting of production for two days. In mid-November the Veterinary and Food Board announced however that it found Listeria bacteria in new samples taken after the cleansing of the production facility.
On Nov. 13 the fish processing company submitted to the Veterinary and Food Board an action plan for eliminating Listeria from its facilities, which among other things called for temporarily halting of production for a thorough cleanup at the beginning of 2020.
The Veterinary and Food Board announced last Monday that it is suspending the activity of the Harku and Vihterpalu factories of M.V.Wool with immediate effect. The injunction includes production, mediation, storage, import of raw material and raw material and goods' export.
The suspension of activity is to last until M.V. Wool has proven to the Veterinary and Food Board that the Listeria outbreak strain ST1247 has been eliminated at the company's locations of activity.
The authority said that the company's activity to eliminate the ST1247 strain of Listeria bacteria, which has caused outbreaks of listeriosis, at the company has been insufficient.
M.V.Wool has said their products have always met valid EU norms and has ruled out any possibility of them having a harmful effect on people's health.
Editor: Helen Wright