‘Factories need to be shut down by government’ when Covid-19 clusters confirmed

The closure of a factory once a cluster of Covid-19 cases has been confirmed “needs to happen immediately” according to the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI).

Edel McGinley told AgriLand that there should be a “statutory approach” to it and that “factories need to be shut down by the government” if a cluster has been confirmed.

“It’s vital to protect workers and the community,” McGinley said.

Workers the MRCI talk to are frightened of going into work; they’re frightened of getting Covid-19.

“Covid-19 can affect people in different ways. There’s an assumption that someone will go back to work in two weeks. That just might not be feasible for a lot of people. For any worker without sick pay it is a frightening way to live.”

McGinley feels it is “very worrying that the state has not stepped in with factories and told them they must close down” when clusters of Covid-19 have been confirmed.

‘Dirty, difficult and dangerous’

Describing the conditions in meat plants as “low-wage, dirty, difficult and dangerous – with a long history of health and safety violations” – the MRCI claims it has received “ongoing complaints from meat processing workers across Ireland since March 26”.

“It is not logical that a factory can run such labour-intensive production at the same pace [as] prior to the pandemic; it is not business as usual,” McGinley said.

“It’s abhorrent that a plant would choose to stay open rather than protect its workers. It’s time that workers’ lives are valued more than profits.”

‘Workers need to be paid additional money’

It is McGinley’s view that workers in factories “need to be paid additional money for the work they have been doing” during the pandemic.

“Not one worker has reported to us any bonus or wage increase for the hazardous work they are doing,” McGinley continued.

“It’s an industry that’s rife with exploitation, abuse and harassment.

Almost 25% of workers we’re talking to either don’t have a contract of employment or don’t know if they have a contract. That’s another barrier for people accessing an illness payment.

“The fundamental issue here is that 90% of the workers that we talk to aren’t covered by any sick pay scheme.”

McGinley said that the MRCI was warned last month by a factory worker that “if we have an outbreak of infection on the production line, the consequences will be catastrophic for the entire region”.