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Union says 20 Direct Provision residents working at meat plant told contracts won't be renewed due to high risk

Mass testing at meat plants has indicated levels of infection among workers is now very low.

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TRADE UNION SIPTU has been made aware of a group of workers at a meat processing plant who have been told their contracts will not be renewed because of the high risk associated with their living situation in a Direct Provision centre.

Previously TheJournal.ie reported that workers in this facility who live in Direct Provision had their hours cut and were segregated from other employees. 

Siptu organiser Greg Ennis has said he has been made aware of a situation involving at least 20 workers at a plant living in Direct Provision who will not have their six-month contracts renewed.

“The workers’ contracts were coming to an end and now they are not having them renewed because they are deemed too high risk,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“This proves that employers see people living in big numbers in shared accommodation as being a problem, but the way they deal with it is not renewing their contracts.

“There are workers living in Direct Provision who are being given separate areas of a plant to work in, remote from other workers, or separate areas of a canteen.”

Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland (Masi) was contacted by a number of the impacted employees. 

Spokesperson for Masi, Bulelani Mfaco, said the organisation is ”appalled but not surprised to hear reports from asylum seekers being discriminated against in the labour market”.

“The Economic and Social Research Institute has published a number of reports showing that migrants and ethnic minorities experience discrimination in recruitment and selection in the Irish labour market with the Geary Institute in UCD making similar findings.”

He said asylum seekers also face discrimination when it comes to the type of work permit they are issued.

“Covid-19 appears to have added another layer of discrimination in the labour market for people in Direct Provision,” Mfaco said.

“Masi calls on the Workplace Relations Commission to take a more proactive role in protecting vulnerable migrant workers from such discrimination. The affected people are fearful of taking on employers because the environment does not give them confidence that they’ll be protected.

“This past weekend, Masi heard from an asylum seeker who had been offered a job in a large supermarket chain. The offer was rescinded when the asylum seeker presented the Labour Market Access Permit given to asylum seekers because the employer had never seen one before.

“The discrimination in the labour market is much broader and needs authorities to break down barriers so that people aren’t left unemployed for long periods of time.”

‘Completely inappropriate’

Meat processing plants have been collecting information from workers about where they are living and who they travel to work with for contact tracing purposes. While the information is being logged for public health reasons in the case of an outbreak, there is concern that workers’ living situations could now be used to discriminate against them.

Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council said he has heard of similar examples in which residents of Direct Provision centres were told they would not be hired for a job in a food processing plant because of their accommodation situation.

“That would reflect the scenario you gave and it’s obviously deplorable. Because they are living in Direct Provision they are paying a double price, living in congregated settings but also at risk of discrimination in the employment market because of where they live,” he told TheJournal.ie.

“It’s completely inappropriate and we would advise anyone in this situation to get employment law advice and to draw attention to it.”

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Testing of workers

The government has begun mass testing of workers at meat processing factories following large outbreaks in Kildare, Laois and Offaly with early indications that the incidence has dropped significantly. 

Cormac Healy, spokesperson for Meat Industry Ireland (MII), told TheJournal.ie that the positivity rate from almost 11,000 tests so far is 0.3%. 

“It’s extremely encouraging for everyone in the sector and for everyone else involved,” he said. He said there had been some issues with turnaround times for testing and the hope is that this can be brought down to 24 hours. 

“There are comprehensive measures that have been in place for months and they are working, they are having an impact. That work continues to ensure those protocols remain in place now because we all know we are by no means out of this pandemic.”

The plant that has told workers their contracts will not be renewed is not a member of MII and Healy said the organisation has not issued any guidance to its members advising them to avoid hiring workers who live in Direct Provision.

He pointed out that there there are workers who “share accommodation and travel together across all parts of the economy and sectors and workplaces”. 

“I want to emphasise too that our members are focused on full-time and direct employment – there has been a lot of talk about vast numbers hired by agencies and that just isn’t accurate.”

TheJournal.ie has contacted the plant involved for comment. 

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