‘Immediate obligation on agriculture committee’ to hold meat industry to account

There is an “immediate obligation” on the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture and the Marine to hold the meat industry to account, according to TD Holly Cairns.

The agriculture spokesperson for the Social Democrats was responding to the final report of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which she feels “reflects the serious nature of the issues with meat plants”.

In the report, the committee has referred to a number of matters related to meat plants to both the Joint Committee on Agriculture and the Marine and the Joint Committee on Health.

The deputy has been calling for a taskforce to examine conditions for workers in this sector for months.

“The outbreaks in this sector have seen some of the worst clusters, which have had serious impacts on workers and the local communities, resulting in entire counties being locked down,” the deputy said.

“I welcome that the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment will be dealing with this matter. There is also an immediate obligation on the Oireachtas Agriculture and Health Committees to hold the industry to account.

Submissions to the committee from workers’ organisations and unions revealed incredibly poor conditions and an oppressive culture that resulted in many employees being afraid to come forward.

The deputy said there is an “urgent need for immediate reform of the sector”.

“Unfortunately, the industry is still resisting calls for proper sick pay; they had to be pressured into negotiating with unions; and we have reports of some plants charging workers for vital PPE [personal protective equipment],” she continued.

“The agriculture committee needs to bring representatives from the meat industry before [it] immediately. It’s vital that there are Covid compliance officers in all meat plants and for departmental inspectors to be given more powers around workers’ conditions.

There needs to be greater transparency and accountability in the sector. For too long, large meat companies have had cosy relationships with political parties – this culture should have ended years ago.

The deputy said she will be writing to the chairs of both the agriculture and health committees to ensure these matters are “dealt with without delay”.

She added that it is “disappointing that the government has disbanded the Special Covid-19 Committee”, as it was doing “excellent work in examining and interrogating serious issues around the meat plants”.