Following reports of two Covid-19 clusters in meat plants this week, trade union SIPTU has questioned “the accuracy of the numbers of infections” among workers in meat plants disclosed by the industry over the last 10 months.

Yesterday (Monday, January 25), it was reported that Slaney Foods in Co. Wexford had been notified of 42 positive cases, following a screening of staff on Friday last (January 22); while ABP Bandon in Co. Cork had been notified of 66 positive Covid-19 cases, following screening of staff there last week.

SIPTU manufacturing division organiser, Greg Ennis, has called on the government to act immediately on the recommendations of the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 for the meat industry.

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“The key recommendations called for mandatory sick pay in the meat processing sector and other low paid jobs; the granting of work permits to be conditional on sick pay provision; installation of Covid-19 compliance officers in the workplace; and the routine testing of meat plant workers with results delivered within 24 hours,” Ennis said.

“The Tánaiste’s commitment to put sick pay on a statutory footing by the end of this year is too little and very late. We need legislative measures to be taken now on sick pay provision.

It rings hollow with these employees, their families and the wider community to be described as ‘essential workers’ by the same senior politicians who have failed to act on Oireachtas recommendations made last October.

“We are calling again for the creation of a ‘farm to fork’ taskforce to address the failings that have come to light in the low paid meat and food production sectors during the pandemic.

“Due to the dangers posed by the highly transmissible variants of Covid-19 across the globe, the issue of quarantine on arrival into the island must be finally and conclusively addressed.

“This is vital in low paid sectors where so many migrant workers are employed. Many workers and their union representatives believe the numbers who have contracted the virus across the meat industry in Ireland are far greater than those disclosed.”

‘There needs to be a collective response’

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly has said the development of Covid-19 clusters in a number of meat processing plants “reinforces how high-risk the sector is”.

“While several changes have been enacted by companies in these sectors, and a number of changes in work practices have been delivered on the ground by workers, it is imperative that the recommendations of the Covid-19 committee to protect workers in these sectors are also implemented,” the deputy said.

There needs to be a collective response to these latest outbreaks including the Health and Safety Authority [HSA], the HSE, workers and trade unions and the plants themselves.

“But, the government needs to uphold its duty to protect public health and the health and safety of workers; and implement the recommendations of the Covid-19 committee report to protect workers in high-risk sectors.”