Independent TD Richard O’Donoghue told representatives of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) that it is their “job to know” the breakdown of Covid-19 cases in meat plants across Ireland.

At Friday’s Oireachtas Special Meeting on Covid-19 Response, deputy O’Donoghue requested that, following the meeting, MII would provide him with a comprehensive, written breakdown of which factories had outbreaks and how many of the workers who tested positive were migrants, EU citizens and Irish citizens.

According to MII, of those who are employed in their meat processing plants, 20% are migrants, 50% are EU citizens and the remaining 30% are Irish citizens.

Deputy O’Donoghue was particularly “disgusted” by the working and living conditions of workers he believes to be employed through agencies.

“You [MII] haven’t answered one question properly. You have just kicked it down the road,” deputy O’Donoghue said.

“You do not have the facts for me today on the agencies. It’s your job to know about the agencies. It’s your job to know how many of them [workers] now are on contract. It’s your job to know whether they have a safe place to live and if they are coming back into a safe environment with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) in place.”

‘A sector operating at minimum wage’

O’Donoghue also expressed concerns over the wages being earned by those working in MII meat plants, and the effect these wages may have on workers’ standards of living.

“We have heard that approximately 20% of the workforce comes from outside the EU,” O’Donoghue said.

“I’m not sure whether the EU workers are subject to any agency contract but it has come up in the earlier discussions that it appears those here through agencies are on particularly low wages.

“I have seen cases myself where migrant workers in meat factories were living 10 to a house.

When five of them came in from their shift, the other five left. They were sleeping on floors. They were sharing the same footwear they wore in the factory to try to make sure that the footwear would last, because they could not afford to replace it.

“Why? Because they were brought in here under agencies.”

MII denied that this “is a sector operating at minimum wage”. MII’s Cormac Healey said: “I think it’s important to point out that is not the case; it is not the prevailing situation across the industry that the minimum wage is the rate.”