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Meat plants continue to need workers from abroad as Irish supply 'not currently available'

Representatives from Meat Industry Ireland and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland were before politicians today.

Image: PA Images

MEAT INDUSTRY IRELAND (MII) has told TDs and Senators that meat plants will continue to need to fill positions from abroad because there isn’t a sufficient pool of workers in Ireland. 

Representatives from MII and the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) both appeared before the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee today to speak about a proposed new employment bill and the Covid-19 situation in the industry. 

MII’s chairperson Phillip Carroll said that companies in the industry have a demand for workers that is “beyond those we can reach in our domestic economy”. 

“While our overall preference remains to recruit within the Irish and EEA labour pools, this labour source is not currently available in sufficient numbers and our sector will have a continuing need to fill vacancies from abroad,” he said.

Otherwise, we face the risk to businesses and limit their ability to develop new market opportunities for Irish meat.

Director of MRCI Edel McGinley said that overall Ireland has “a very positive relationship with people who migrate for work” but that poor conditions have been “exposed across many sectors”. 

“Throughout the pandemic, essential workers have been picking, packing and putting food on our tables and many have cared for loved ones. This bill was developed at a very different time in 2019. There is now much more appreciation for essential workers and the work people do,” she added.

The bill being discussed by the committee proposes to update the employment permits system to increase its flexibility and effectiveness.

McGinley said that the proposal “is not a bad thing per se” but that “flexibility with limited rights is dangerous”.

Covid-19 

During the hearing, People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy claimed that there is “discrimination and different sets of rules for migrant workers” and that Covid-19 has “shed light” on some of these issues. 

Murphy said that infection rates of Covid-19 in meat plants was “striking” and that trade union Siptu has said 25% of meat plant workers have had Covid-19.

Murphy added that there were “25 open outbreaks at the moment out of 56 meat plants in the State”

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In response to Murphy, Cormac Healy of MII said he “does not accept the position as he has characterised it”

“It should be known that an outbreak is categorised as two or more cases which can then somehow be portrayed as a big and major outbreak,” he said.

The deputy mentioned a figure of 25%.  As I understand it, from the latest figures, there are open outbreaks of Covid but they can be very small.  An outbreak is considered open until such time as 28 days have passed.

Healy also said that serial testing of meat plant workers has seen over 165,000 tests carried out with an overall positivity rate “coming out at 0.79%”. 

In the current cycle, the positivity rate is running at 0.36%, which is extremely low,” he said. 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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