SIPTU meat worker members ‘angered’ by exclusion from Covid-19 committee

The meat industry workers’ division of trade union SIPTU has hit out at being excluded from last week’s Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 response, which focused on coronavirus clusters in meat plants.

The committee meeting took place last Friday, July 10, and featured representatives from Migrant Rights Centre Ireland and Meat Industry Ireland (MII). However, representatives of workers on the ground were omitted, the trade union noted.

Noting the “anger” of members at the exclusion, SIPTU manufacturing division organiser Greg Ennis said: “As it has been widely reported, workers in the meat processing industry in Ireland have suffered greatly as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic.

There have been a total of 1,056 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections of meat processing plant workers out of a total workforce of approximately 15,000.

“There are thousands of SIPTU members employed in this relatively low-paid industry. SIPTU representatives were requested to make a submission through the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response on June 16.

“However, union representatives have not been requested to attend the meeting of the committee on this issue – despite the many and important issues we wish to raise,” Ennis said.

The trade union representative noted that SIPTU was the “first representative body to raise concerns” about the issues within the meat processing industry “which it is believed gave rise to Covid-19 transmission within these workplaces”.

The union first publicly raised its concerns in March 2020, and in writing to the then Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, in April and May, Ennis added.

In April, SIPTU representatives also called for mandatory temperature testing for all entrants to meat processing facilities – this call was largely ignored.

Continuing, he said:

“In May, SIPTU representatives jointly with the Migrant Rights Council of Ireland wrote a letter of complaint to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) CEO, Sharon McGuinness, following her admission at the Oireachtas Committee that no Covid-19 related health and safety inspections had taken place at meat plants up to May 17.

“This was a staggering admission, particularly when one considers that the number of Covid-19 clusters in the meat processing industry had jumped from six in April to 16 in May, with 850 confirmed cases by May 20.

MII has also refused to engage with SIPTU representatives concerning the well-being of its members’ employees.

Such an approach is not in keeping with the common purpose shown by most other organisations in the attempt to defeat the worst ravages of the Covid pandemic, the SIPTU representative added.

“SIPTU representatives have requested that we be given the opportunity to address a further sitting of this committee on the meat processing industry, as we believe the evidence we would give orally, as well as through our previously submitted paper, will greatly assist its work.

“It will also ensure that we learn from our recent experiences, so that we can prevent a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 spreading through meat processing plants as has occurred in other countries,” Ennis concluded.