SIPTU: 9% of meat industry workforce now diagnosed with Covid-19

The spike of Covid-19 clusters in meat and food processing facilities in recent days “comes as no surprise” to trade union SIPTU, which says that 9% of the meat processing industry’s workforce has now been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Speaking to AgriLand this morning, Friday, August 7, SIPTU manufacturing division organiser Greg Ennis said:

“This comes as no surprise; we had predicted that this would happen. Everything that should have been done is not being done.

We need blanket testing of all workers in meat and food processing facilities; on a reoccurring basis. Where there are symptoms of the virus or confirmed cases, we need the immediate shutdown of those employments – without loss of earnings for the workers.

This, he said, must be the case until the employment is deep-cleaned, sanitised and inspected before workers can return to work.

“The health and safety of our members – workers, their families and the wider community – is of paramount importance.”

Commenting on the 9% figure, Ennis said: “At the moment we have north of 1,300 cases out of 14,500 workers.

That’s where I got the figure from – there are 14,500 people working in the meat processing industry. In there alone, you are looking at 1,300 cases.

‘Perfect storm’

Continuing, the SIPTU official said: “We have said all along that this is the perfect storm for Covid-19 transmission.

“It has all the vectors – noise pollution forcing people to shout, causing droplets; you have the air circulation system moving those droplets around; you have workers in close proximity; bottlenecks in canteens and toilets; and you also have, which I think is critical in this, very poor terms and conditions of employment.

95% of workers in the meat industry in Ireland do not have a sick-pay scheme. That is really important, because workers then who may have a slight cough, or bit of a fever or sore throat, etc, cannot afford not to go to work unless they’re really ill. They are coming in. We’ve been saying this for a long time.

“At the end of the day, it’s a socio-economic issue, because you’ve got the 95% with no sick-pay, but you’ve also got people working just above the minimum wage in the meat industry in Ireland, and some on the minimum wage.”

The SIPTU organiser highlighted that this means workers are forced to car-pool and are forced to share accommodation. “We know that workers are sharing rooms within accommodations in many cases,” he added.

“Unless we do more there will be more outbreaks. We have to take that drastic action. I’m still annoyed by the fact that we didn’t get a chance to address the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee.”

Meeting with MII

Ennis noted that Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has agreed to meet SIPTU representatives on Monday, August 10.

MII is meeting SIPTU on Monday, which is a step in the right direction. I believe we should have a commonality of purpose and we should have an overall approach to this.

“I’ve been calling since April for a taskforce – a farm to fork taskforce. That was shot down; we called for mandatory temperature testing; that was shot down.

“It’s about time that people got real about this and engaged with all of the stakeholders to ensure that we beat Covid-19 in the meat processing industry,” Ennis concluded.