SIPTU: Government ‘should be ready’ for increasing Covid-19 testing capacity in meat plants

While serial Covid-19 testing has resumed in meat plants this week, trade union SIPTU is still “gravely concerned” about the current capacity for testing.

Before serial Covid-19 testing was suspended last week, an average total of 751 tests were done in meat plants per day across Ireland, according to SIPTU manufacturing division organiser Greg Ennis.

Ennis said that along with his opinion that serial testing should continue on a weekly basis in plants until the virus is suppressed both in the community and workplace, the turnaround time for results needs to be within 24 hours, not between two and four days as Ennis said is currently the case.

“I still have grave reservations about the testing. When the serial testing commenced on August 21; they were testing, on average, 751 across the meat industry,” Ennis said.

“The fact that testing had to be ceased because of demand that grew in Dublin two weeks ago really concerns me because if the capability is that tight that we have to stop testing because of increased demand, that poses serious questions and serious concerns for the winter ahead.

“It flies in the face of what the health minister at the time, Simon Harris, said on March 19 that we would have 100,000 tests per week in the country.

If the capacity is so tight that we have to cease testing in meat plants which was only doing 751 tests a day, we have a real problem as the second wave unfolds.

“What has the government been doing for the last six months? It should be ready for this and should have the testing capacity.”

SIPTU will be meeting with Meat Industry Ireland (MII) tomorrow (Friday, September 18) and Ennis said he expects to conclude the SIPTU charter, a protocol outlining best practices to prevent the Covid-19 spread in meat factories.

“However, I do not expect to make progress on the sick pay element and that is extremely disappointing as it is one of the key vectors of transmission in meat plants; the fact that nine out of 10 workers do not have sick pay,” Ennis continued.

“MII is refusing to engage and negotiate with SIPTU on that.

“And that is regrettable; because the terms and conditions are what we have already pointed out are key factors in the transmission of Covid-19 within the meat plants.”

Covid-19 testing in meat plants ongoing

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has confirmed that serial testing in meat plants has resumed this week.

Speaking in the Dáil, he said that his department has “assisted and supported the HSE [Health Service Executive] and the food business operators at local level in dealing with any outbreaks in meat plants and in assisting with the logistics of organising and implementing Covid-19 testing in meat plants, which is ongoing at present”.

In the context of inspections, the minister confirmed there were 26 Health and Safety Authority (HSA) inspections in August, 25 of which were unannounced.