Members of trade union SIPTU are seeking a ban on agencies providing workers to the meat industry so as to ensure direct employment.

Speaking after an investigation into illegal work practices in the meat processing industry by the Irish Mail on Sunday, SIPTU manufacturing division organiser Greg Ennis said that many workers in the industry “are afraid to speak out”.

Particular concern over variants in meat industry

“We are particularly concerned at the possible outbreaks of the new Covid-19 variants in Irish meat processing plants. While the union has a good working relationship with some employers, many employments are breeding grounds for exploitation.

“Over 25% of workers within the industry have contracted Covid-19 yet most of the key recommendations made by the Special Oireachtas Committee on Covid-19 in October 2020 have not been implemented.

SIPTU is now calling on the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to meet with worker representatives to discuss putting in place immediate measures to address issues around employment.

“These must ensure that work permits are granted on the condition that the employer provides decent terms and conditions, a record of ensuring a safe workplace and proper sick pay provision,” Ennis continued.

“We are also seeking a ban on agencies providing workers to the meat industry so as to ensure direct employment, as is now the case in Germany, and that greater resources are made available to the Health and Safety Authority [HSA] and the Department of Social Protection to assist in eradicating the form of modern slavery.”

A ‘frustrating’ year gone by

One year ago, SIPTU says it “set out its stall”, as its concerns grew over Covid-19 spreading within meat processing plants.

Ennis told Agriland there were times that were “extremely frustrating” over the last 12 months as SIPTU fought for improved working conditions for meat plant workers during the pandemic.

Last August, there was increased attention on workers being provided by agencies as Agriland was informed of concerns that these workers were being moved between food processing plants.

TD Jackie Cahill raised these fears with the Minister for Agriculture at the time, Dara Calleary, saying that “there needs to be protocols in place that workers can’t move from one plant to another…and if they’re working through an agency, they are required to stay at one location”.

“There is a view that that’s not happening. There needs to be a strict onus on the agencies that are providing workers that there is absolutely no cross-transfer of workers,” the deputy added.

Meanwhile, independent TD Mattie McGrath had told AgriLand that the “awful living conditions” of some workers are having an impact on the spread of the virus.

“It’s when they [workers] go home; there’s up to 30 of them living in a house,” deputy McGrath claimed.

The agencies bring workers here [to Ireland] and then they drop them. They abandon them here with no rights, no sick pay and awful living conditions.

“These agencies must come under scrutiny. They must take responsibility for their behaviour and the welfare of these workers. They barely have human rights.”