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Asylum seeker says Direct Provision workers' hours were reduced at meat plant

This comes after clusters at four meat plants led to a localised lockdown in Kildare, Offaly and Laois.

AN ASYLUM SEEKER who works at a meat plant in the east of the country has claimed that workers living in Direct Provision have had their hours cut following the Covid-19 clusters in similar plants in Kildare, Offaly and Laois.

An asylum seeker working at this plant, who wishes to remain anonymous, told that the workers in Direct Provision were also segregated from other workers at the plant.

“We were told to not work in the main factory and work at the back, they didn’t give us a reason until I asked the manager,” he said.

The workers approached the manager and asked why they had been moved to a different part of the production line, and they were told that it was because they were living in Direct Provision, so they had to “work alone”.

“They said it was because of Covid, but Covid affects everyone,” the asylum seeker said.

The asylum seekers working at this meat plant are now on reduced hours of up to 30 hours a week, from a previous maximum of around 43 hours a week, he said.

When they questioned why the hours were reduced, the asylum seeker said they were told “you either take it or leave it”.

“We thought maybe they don’t want us and they want to make us leave. [The workers have] families back home, so now they are between a rock and a hard place. We don’t know what to do.” 

There have been no cases of Covid-19 either in the factory or in this man’s Direct Provision accommodation.

When asked whether they felt safe working at the meat plant, the asylum seeker said:

“The only thing that they did was to move us away from the other workers. There were other white guys on our side, the only people they moved were people from Africa.”

So if a Polish guy or an Irish guy gets Covid, are you going to remove all the Polish guys or the Irish guys and put them outside?
If they tested everyone, and one of us had Covid, then we’d say ‘oh ok’. The measures now look racist to us.  

Following a surge in Covid-19 cases stemming from the meat plant coronavirus clusters, restrictions were placed on residents in Kildare, Laois and Offaly to ensure that any spread of the virus in the community was slowed. 

The man who spoke to said that it’s his understanding that one of the meat plants involved in the latest clusters – a plant in Offaly – didn’t include people in Direct Provision. He said that because of this, segregating Direct Provision workers at such plants is unfair. It has not been confirmed officially whether there were Direct Provision residents at the Offaly plant. 

The localised restrictions have placed a greater focus on the precarious work conditions at meat plants, which have been hotspots for outbreaks in the UK and Germany

Among the issues at meat plants that exacerbate the risk of Covid-19 are the lack of secure employment, which can mean people feel they can’t afford to call in sick: Meat Industry Ireland has said that just 20% of workers in meat processing plants are offered sick pay by their employers. 

There have also been calls from trade unions to “beef up” the Health and Safety Authority, the safety watchdog for workplaces, in order to patrol meat factories more effectively.

Of the 39 inspections at meat plants in Ireland, just nine were unannounced inspections.

The situation has also shed a light on Direct Provision centres, where people don’t have the facilities to self isolate effectively due to shared kitchens and other shared living spaces.

An asylum seeker spoke to recently about his fear of returning to a Direct Provision centre after an outbreak of Covid-19 there.

Meat Industry Ireland and the Department of Justice

In response to a query from about the worker’s claims, the Department of Justice said: 

“Employees living in Direct Provision accommodation have the same rights and protections under employment law as any other workers in the State.

Any worker can contact the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for information or to make a complaint under employment, equality and equal status legislation.

“If any of our residents believe that they have been unfairly treated by their employer, we would encourage them to do so.”

When this asylum seeker’s case was put to Meat Industry Ireland (MII), it responded with the following statement:

“Meat Industry Ireland emphasised the continued focus of its members on the stringent controls and mitigation measures that were implemented at the outset of the pandemic and were strengthened on the 15th May with the publication of specific HSE guidelines for meat processing operations.

“MII reiterated that the industry has worked tirelessly to protect employees throughout the course of this pandemic and continues to do so. MII members have undertaken extensive measures early in the crisis to reduce risks, and continually revised and enhanced their approach in line with all relevant guidance.

“Over 60 different prevention and control measures continue to be implemented by meat plants in response to the pandemic including enhanced PPE, staff training, temperature checking, Covid-19 signage in several languages, and enhanced sanitation and biosecurity protocols.” 

The statement also outlined the measures put in place in order to address physical distancing. 

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