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Union calls for 'blanket testing' in meat factories as concern grows over recent clusters

Siptu said it is possible some workers have symptoms but are not getting testing over a fear of losing income.

Image: Shutterstock/El Nariz

UNIONS ARE CALLING for blanket testing across meat factories nationwide, describing them as “the perfect storm for the transmission of Covid-19″ following significant clusters in recent weeks. 

A number of meat processing factories have witnessed the emergence of new clusters of Covid-19, with the bulk of the 69 new cases announced by the health officials yesterday reported as a result of the factory outbreaks. 

NPHET is today expected to announce guidance for Kildare, Laois and Offaly in a bid to contain the clusters and prevent further community transmission of the virus. 

Greg Ennis, from trade union Siptu said a blanket Covid-19 testing regime was necessary to identify cases of the virus in meat processing factories as early as possible and to protect workers, their families, and the wider community. 

“It is the perfect storm for the transmission of Covid and that is because of the vectors that exist [in factories] such as close proximity working, bottle necks in canteens and toilets, industrial air cooling systems circulating in the air, [and] noise pollution which forces workers to shout and create the droplets,” he told RTÉ Radio 1′s Morning Ireland. 

We need to do more, we need now a situation where blanket testing across all meat and food processing plants is the order of the day.

“We need a situation where if there is suspected cases of Covid, that workers are taken out of danger and sent home without loss of earnings.”

Ennis raised concerns that some workers who have symptoms of the virus are continuing to show up to work in fear of a loss of earnings if they are out sick. 

Some workers at meat processing factories are known to live in direct provision centres and it was feared those workers would not come forward for testing if there were not sufficient supports available to them in the event they tested positive, and therefore were forced out sick. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Tuesday confirmed that those living in direct provision “will be treated the same as any other citizen in terms of social protection supports when it comes to Covid-19″.

Ennis this morning said the best case scenario is that factories would be prepared to pay employees in full in the event they tested positive for the virus and had to isolate for 14 days. 

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“I would agree with sending workers home with full pay. We’ve been talking about this since mid-March, in fact, we wrote to the minister in April.

“And you have a situation where the conditions of employment of workers is extremely poor, where 95% of the workers in the meat industry do not have sick pay schemes and that puts people in the situation who earn slightly above the minimum wage that maybe if they are carrying suspicion of illness, they are forced into work because they have nothing else to rely on. 

“We need to do more, we need now a situation where blanket testing across all meat and food processing plants is the order of the day. We need a situation where if there is suspected cases of Covid, that workers are taking out of danger and sent home without loss of earnings. 

“You have workers who are on minimum wage in many cases and forced into carpooling, forced into shared accommodation, and indeed, they are forced to share in some cases, rooms within that accomodation, so this transmission is taking place both within and outside of the workplace.”

He added: “It’s about time the Government got real about this and introduced blanket testing for all workers in what they deem, and we deem, an essential service.”

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