Meat factory workers claim they were made to work alongside colleagues with Covid symptoms

The development comes as factory owners, worker representatives and local politicians scramble to deal with the fall out over 600 infections in the sector.
Meat factory workers claim they were made to work alongside colleagues with Covid symptoms

Meat factory workers have claimed they were asked to return to work despite the fact other colleagues were sick and showed symptoms of Covid-19.

The development comes as factory owners, worker representatives and local politicians scramble to deal with the fall out over 600 infections in the sector.

Former minister and independent TD Denis Naughten has now secured Dáil support to bring in Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to explain how several meat processors across the country have seen a large proportion of their employees contract Covid-19.

The Roscommon-Galway TD has said there are now clusters of infection surrounding meat plants "where the levels of infection within the plants themselves is up on one third or, in some instances, half of the workforce”.

Mr Naughten, who has spent weeks looking into this, says staff did not self-isolate in the period between being tested and the results being returned which seriously undermines the validity of the negative results.

Meat workers also told RTE's Today Show earlier that sick workers had returned to factories, including those with temperatures, that no social distancing was practicised on production lines and that no protective equipment, such as masks, were made available until very recently.

Workers are reluctant to identify themselves for fear they could face repercussions from employers or colleagues.

Mr Naughten now warns that failure to address concerns about meat plants could have knock-on effects for other areas and populations ahead of the expected easing of the lockdown next week, he added.

“Ahead of the start of reopening the economy next week we must address the fundamental problems within the meat processing sector which could be replicated in other parts of industry and which could be catastrophic,” stated Denis Naughten.

These failures in the system have resulted in new infection clusters in communities across the country which up to now had low levels of Covid-19 infection.

"If these fundamental issues are not addressed immediately, in advance of the easing of the lockdown next Monday, then we could very quickly be looking at a second spike in Covid-19 infections.

“After such heroic efforts by every citizen in the State to stop the spread of this virus we cannot allow a second wave of infection under any circumstances.

"So, while we must remain cautious in how we relax restrictions, we must also learn to live with Covid-19 which will be with us for a considerable time to come.”

It comes as trade union Siptu, said that some meat processing plants "completely ignored" HSE guidelines on Covid-19.

It's deputy general secretary Gerry McCormack said there were problems at meat processing plants from the "beginning" of the crisis.

"What seems to have happened is that some employers really didn't take this seriously. Some of them did. Some employers completely ignored the recommendations from the HSE on how to do physical distancing and put in proper processes to protect workers," he told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.

Mr McCormack compared the situation in the meat sector with that of the dairy sector which he said was better paid and better regulated

"If you contrast, for example, the meat industry with the dairy industry which are both providing food throughout this country and abroad and we have very little, if any, outbreaks in the dairy industry."

"It's a well paid, well-regulated industry, as compared to the meat industry. We had a problem from the very beginning in that some employers weren't taking this seriously," he said.

- Additional reporting Conall Ó Fatharta

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