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'Some took it seriously, some didn't': Covid-19 cases in meat plants labelled 'gravely serious'

The Dáil heard yesterday that up to 600 cases had been confirmed in meat plants.

A total of 10 clusters have been identified in  meat processing factories. (File photo)
A total of 10 clusters have been identified in meat processing factories. (File photo)
Image: Demian Stringer/PA Images

UNIONS HAVE WARNED that workers within the meat processing industry have not been sufficiently protected from the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Dáil heard yesterday that up to 600 cases had been confirmed in meat plants with the National Public Health Emergency Team previously confirming ten clusters in the facilities.

People in the food industry are considered essential workers and they can therefore travel to work.

Siptu’s deputy general secretary Gerry McCormack said this morning that some employers have been better than others in implementing physical distancing in the plants. 

“Some employers really didn’t take this seriously, some of them did,” McCormack claimed. 

“What seems to have happened is that quite a few workers have gotten infected in this industry,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland programme.

If you contrast for example, the meat industry with the dairy industry, both providing food to throughout this country and abroad, and we have had very little if any outbreaks in the dairy industry, it’s a well-paid, well-regulated industry as compared to meat industry. We had this problem from the very beginning. 

McCormack added that that 70-90% of workers in some meat processing facilities are migrants and that many live in cramped living conditions. 

“We have migrant workers living in houses together, cohabiting with groups of other workers going into the plant. Some of them are afraid to say that they have problems, some of them are afraid to say that are sick,” he said. 

‘Gravely serious’ 

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin yesterday described the number of coronavirus clusters in meat processing plants as “gravely serious”. 

Speaking in the Dail on Thursday, Martin said: “The situation with meat plants is gravely serious and it is not obvious that these clusters are being dealt with comprehensively.

“Without calling for the shutting down of the sector, it seems very surprising that the blanket testing of a facility is followed by no interruption of work until the results are returned.”

He said the plants should be closed temporarily so proper cleaning could take place.

Would it not be reasonable to halt production for a deep clean and putting in place of new control measures while waiting for the results? Simply sending workers back to work and, indeed, not testing their families does not make sense.

“More needs to be done on this issue. Health authorities need to visit factory floors to see the reality.”

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Rise TD Paul Murphy told the Dail he had received official confirmation that 200 complaints had been made about workplace breaches of Covid-19 guidelines.

He said the workplaces included meat plants and that so far no inspections had been carried out by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

“That’s 200 groups of workers potentially working in unsafe conditions, 200 appeals to the HSA falling on deaf ears,” he said.

“It appears that the HSA and the government has been asleep at the wheel, carrying out no inspections at the time when we need strict enforcement.”

Murphy called on Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to ensure that such workplaces faced sanctions and that inspections would be carried out.

In response, Varadkar said: “I will make enquiries with the HSA before making any judgment. I’d like to hear their side of the story and find out what their position is. Under the health and safety act, employers in breach of the act can be prosecuted and fined if it is appropriate to do so.”

- With reporting by Press Association 

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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