Bill introduced with aim to protect workers in meat plants and similar settings

TD Louise O’Reilly introduced the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Amendment) Bill 2020 in the Dáil yesterday (Tuesday, October 7) with the aim of it being to protect workers in settings such as meat plants.

The purpose of the bill, which amends the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 2005, is to make workplace outbreaks of Covid-19 notifiable to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

The “proactive notification and surveillance” of Covid-19 is “key to ensuring that we do not end up with clusters of the virus in workplaces, as has been happening throughout this pandemic” according to deputy O’Reilly.

Speaking about the bill, the deputy said:

“Some might be shocked to learn that workplace outbreaks of Covid-19 are currently not notifiable to the HSA as occupational illness, due to a lacuna in the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act.

We are outliers in Europe in this regard and when we look at other countries like Spain, where Covid is classified as a workplace injury.

She said that the aim of this legislation is to protect workers in all workplaces, whether they “are in a meat plant, a care home, on a building site or in an office block in the International Financial Services Centre”.

“One only has to look at the alarming rise in the rates of infection for healthcare workers which has trebled in recent weeks from 100 per fortnight to 300 per fortnight.

This bill is intended to protect workers who simply cannot work from home. These people work in meat factories, food processing plants and supply chains to get the food to our supermarkets, in nursing homes and hospitals, respite centres, shops and on building sites.

“Ordinary workers have been put in danger because of the failure to legislate for this.

“At the time of publishing the bill in June, I stated that given evidence of the incidents of Covid-19 in workplaces such as meat factories and health facilities during the lockdown period, this change absolutely must be made and, if it was not, workers would again be put in danger.

“It is with great regret that we have seen this become a reality across countless workplaces.”

Sick pay bill defeated

Last week, a bill that would see meat plant workers have legal entitlement to sick pay was defeated by the government and “kicked into a six-month review”, as said by Labour Party TD Duncan Smith.

The Labour Party brought forward the Sick Leave and Parental Leave (Covid-19) Bill 2020; to bring an entitlement for employees to paid leave during periods of illness or injury.

The deputy added: “If they think we’re going to stop campaigning for this, they are sorely mistaken.”

Despite the knock to the progress of the bill last night, which saw 82 vote in favour of delaying it by six months compared to 61, Alan Kelly, leader of the Labour Party, says there is “huge public support for sick pay” which shows the “need for government action now”.