Inquiry into meat plants is ‘the least those who have been failed should expect’

A commitment to an inquiry into the “deficiencies” in the meat sector is the “very least that those who have been failed by meat plants should expect” according to Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy.

The deputy was responding to the final report of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response, which he feels “paints a damning image of how Covid-19 was handled in meat processing plants”.

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

Deputy Carthy, the Sinn Féin spokesperson on agriculture, says that the report “charts a way forward for the sector”. He added that it highlighted “several failings on the part of the state to monitor and control the outbreak in meat plants”.

The deputy, who was a member of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19, said:

“This report makes a number of constructive, concrete proposals in respect of the meat industry that can and must be actioned urgently.

“Staff must be entitled to statutory sick pay and Covid-19 must be recognised as a notifiable workplace illness.”

Testing and tracing

Deputy Carthy says that the report also raises questions around the testing and tracing regime operating in meat processing plants.

“We know that gaps remain in the testing regime in these plants. These gaps need to be addressed as a matter of priority,” he continued.

Testing cannot be deferred again – in fact, it needs to be intensified. We must build the capacity to ensure that mass serial testing continues in all congregated settings, and to have results returned within 24 hours.

As recommended by the report, the deputy says that the agriculture committee must establish an inquiry to examine the operation of the meat processing industry.

“Over the past 12 months, we have learned much regarding the manner with which some in this sector exploit their workers and the farmers who supply them,” he said.

“As we face into a challenging winter, the very least that those who have been failed by meat plants should expect is a commitment to an inquiry dedicated to uncovering and addressing the deficiencies in the sector.”

Bill introduced with aim to protect workers in meat plants

Last week, deputy Carthy’s party colleague Louise O’Reilly introduced the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Amendment) Bill 2020 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).