SIPTU supports bill that seeks to give meat plant workers legal right to sick pay

Trade union SIPTU has said it supports the bill that seeks to give meat processing plant workers in Ireland a legal right to sick pay.

The Labour Party has introduced the Sick Leave and Parental Leave (Covid-19) Bill 2020; to bring an entitlement for employees to paid leave during periods of illness or injury.

Leader of the Labour Party, Alan Kelly, said that the pandemic has exposed “many injustices and inequalities across our society for everyone to see”.

“The Covid-19 outbreaks in meat processing plants [have] put a spotlight on the working conditions in many sectors, especially among low-paid and non-unionised workers,” deputy Kelly said.

“The current rules on sick pay and illness benefit act as a disincentive for workers to comply with public health guidelines as they may be left with reduced or no income. This bill would create a level playing field.

That is why the Labour Party is proposing a right to paid sick leave of up to six weeks at the same rate as annual leave.

“This is the recovery time for a moderate to severe case of Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization [WHO]. Six weeks is a fraction of the sick leave arrangements which trade unions have delivered for workers across the public sector.”

‘An enormous hole in the protections workers need’

According to deputy Kelly, the situation regarding meat factory workers over the summer, which “played a big part in the lockdowns in Kildare, Laois and Offaly”, was a “clear example of how the lack of sick pay in workplaces can hammer everyone in the community”.

“Incredibly, meat factories have still explicitly ruled out even discussing sick pay with workers and their trade union representatives. This is not acceptable.”

In addition, according to Kelly, this bill would introduce a temporary extension of ‘force majeure’ leave, so that parents can take paid time off to look after their kids if they are sent home from creche or school because of the need to isolate or because the setting has had to close.

“This is a very simple measure that will greatly ease the stress and anxiety that many parents are feeling right now as they worry about what they will do if their child’s school is closed. This will give them reassurance until their son or daughter can go back to school.”

The deputy added:

It has actually taken this pandemic to demonstrate the major gaps in legal protections for workers in this country.

“There is an enormous hole in the protections workers need to prevent them from being forced to go to work while sick. This pandemic has shown beyond doubt that what is happening is simply not good enough.”

The bill is currently in the second stage in the Dáil.

SIPTU ‘actively watching’ progress of the bill

SIPTU manufacturing division organiser, Greg Ennis, told AgriLand that the trade union supports and will be “actively watching” the progress of the Labour Party’s bill.

Having failed to negotiate sick pay in its meetings with Meat Industry Ireland (MII), despite having agreed on a national charter with a detailed code of practice to protect staff in the meat processing industry from Covid-19, Ennis said:

SIPTU has a number of sick pay agreements already in place with members of MII. We will engage at employer level to try and standardise that across the industry.

“I believe the lack of sick pay is a contributory factor to Covid-19 transmission right across the food industry and will be actively watching the bill going through the Oireachtas.”