Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan has called on the Minister for Agriculture to take immediate steps to protect meat factory workers.
Senator Gavan’s comments come in light of serious allegations in a Sunday newspaper of breaches of employment law and renewed concerns regarding the spread of Covid-19.
Senator Gavan said:
“Representatives of the Meat Industry are before the Oireachtas Enterprise Committee tomorrow to discuss new legislation on work permits, and will also need to address shocking allegations regarding the treatment and status of vulnerable immigrant workers.
“Last year the Oireachtas Covid-19 Committee made recommendations for the meat industry including provision for sick pay, and stated that this recommendation needed to be in place within 6 months.
“To date, no action has been taken by Government.
“New revelations have shown the use of fake identities with regard to vulnerable workers in the sector. In one raid on a meat plant last year, 19 workers were found to be in breach of work permit and immigration rules.
“There are also serious concerns about the potential spread of the P1 Covid variant across the meat industry in Ireland.
“We are talking about very vulnerable workers here, often with little or no English, and in many cases without the right of trade union representation within their workplace.
“The HSE issued their own document on the meat industry last month with various recommendations as the meat processing industry has seen over 25% of workers within the sector having contracted Covid-19, with many clusters across meat plants.
“We have to ask why is the Minster continuing to stand by, and to take no action on the Covid-19 Committee report and to protect these workers? Irelands largest trade union SIPTU, which represent 6,000 workers in the industry, has already called for urgent action, and Sinn Féin fully supports this call.
“We need to ensure that meat factories provide sick pay, and we also need to see a ban on the use of agency staff in meat factories, as has been applied in Germany.
“Above all we need to ensure that work permits are only provided in cases where the employer provides decent terms and conditions, including proper sick pay provision.
“I am calling on the Minster to make these immediate changes for workers in meat processing.”