Four meat plants in midlands not reopening as better sick pay conditions called for

All four meat processing plants in the midlands are not reopening today, after recent outbreaks of Covid-19.
Four meat plants in midlands not reopening as better sick pay conditions called for
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All four meat processing plants in the midlands are not reopening today, after recent outbreaks of Covid-19.

It is after hundreds of new cases at the facilities has led to a localised lockdown in Kildare, Laois and Offaly.

150 workers tested positive for the virus at Kildare Chilling, 86 at O'Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe and nine at the Irish Dog Food Factory in Naas.

Carroll Cuisine in Tullamore, which has reported nine cases, is also to suspend operations to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the community.

Kieran Carolan, Chief Executive of Carroll Cuisine, said: "We have been working closely with the HSE and, while positive case levels among our staff are low, we believe that the best approach is to take this break in operations over the days ahead until we can evaluate the results of comprehensive tests which were undertaken for our staff on a precautionary basis yesterday in co-operation with the HSE.

“Through the independent testing that we also conducted and completed last week, a total of 9 employees from our workforce of 330 (2.43%) to date have had positive tests for Covid-19 and are self-isolating.

"We welcome proposals by the Minister for Agriculture for a 14-day recurring testing programme for the meat sector and we will participate fully in any such initiatives. This will help to monitor, suppress and prevent the virus, keep people safe and protect employment when we reopen in due course following the current precautionary measures.

Our employees will continue to be paid as normal. We are very grateful to our staff for their excellent dedication and commitment and for the support and encouragement of our communities however we believe this temporary suspension of operations is the best course of action at this time.

SIPTU will meet with the meat industry later to discuss the outbreak among workers.

Agriculture Minister Dara Calleary says his department are working on revising health protocols for meat processing plants.

“What we’re doing now, is proposing as a response to the new phase, that we will begin the testing in the bigger parts,” he said.

“Starting in Kildare, in Laois and in Offaly.

“For that testing to be effective, it needs to be repeated."

Mr Calleary said they were in discussions with the HSE on rolling that out.

04/08/2020 Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
04/08/2020 Minister for Agriculture Dara Calleary. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

SIPTU's Greg Ennis said more than 10% of workers in the industry have had confirmed Covid-19 cases in the last five months.

He said mandatory temperature testing needs “to be complied with across the country”.

He also called for improved sick pay provisions.

At the moment, nine in 10 workers do not have sick pay within the meat industry and workers are forced into a place where if they have symptoms they may go to work because they can’t afford not to.

“And that is simply not good enough in a very poorly paid industry.”

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar expressed regret at the issue of blame for the spread of Covid-19 which he says is “creeping” into Irish society.

People are blaming American tourists, young people, migrant workers he told the show.

Mr Varadkar pointed out that 100 workers in meat plants had died in the US. Fortunately, that had not been the case in Ireland, he said. 

Leo Varadkar. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie
Leo Varadkar. Picture: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

The Tánaiste also pointed out that under public health legislation the Health Service Executive (HSE) has the power to order the closure of Carroll's Cuisine in Tullamore.

An ‘outbreak’ team is working at present to assess measures necessary at the Carroll plant which remains open while three other factories in the three-county area closed following the discovery of clusters. 

Mr Varadkar told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that there is a need to trust public health officials ‘on the ground’ who will decide whether a public health closure order needs to be issued.

The Tánaiste added that he understood the frustration of people in Kildare, Laois and Offaly, but said that an individual and employer could “do everything” and still get the virus.

It was not known why meat processing plants were at risk, he said, as there were still clusters emerging even with improved measures in the workplace including the wearing of visors, masks and shields.

This was a continuing problem and there was a need to get back to basics and to contain the amount of Covid cases in the community.

Meanwhile, the director of the Migrant Rights Centre, Edel McGinley has said it seems ludicrous that the plant in Tullamore would not close because of the cluster of Covid-19 cases there.

It had not been surprising to see more cases at meat plants because workers had been warning of conditions for months she told Morning Ireland.

Edel McGinley Director Migrants Centre Ireland. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Edel McGinley Director Migrants Centre Ireland. Picture: Gareth Chaney/Collins

People have to work in close proximity and output has not decreased, she said, so how could measures have been put in place?

This was a sector that is very difficult to work in with long hours and a high incident of workplace accidents, added Ms McGinley.

Many staff did not feel safe at work with many workers not on a sick pay scheme while others do not have contracts or any job security, she said.

Ms McGinley also called for sick pay to be streamlined and for staff to be made aware of who their local doctor was and how they could access translators.

Workers were very concerned that there was going to be a “rowback” by Meat Industry Ireland on commitments made at an Oireachtas Committee meeting about the sector and Covid-19.

There is a mixed picture across the industry, some acted and some didn’t.

Ms McGinley said that workers had told them of plants putting extra measures in place when they knew there was going to be a Health Safety Authority inspection such as telling staff to stay at home on the day of the inspection.

“We accept that some things are being done, but obviously not enough.” Ms McGinley called for the immediate closure of all plants. It was “ludicrous” she said that there was not a mandatory requirement that Carroll Meats had to close.


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