August 7, 2020
Union officials must be able to monitor meat factories – Senator Paul Gavan

 Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan has called for urgent action to tackle the Covid-19 crisis unfolding in meat factories across Ireland and expressed concerns that it reflects years of poor oversight of working conditions in the sector.

Senator Gavan has called on Meat Industry Ireland to engage with trade unions to deliver urgently needed, radical reform to combat the spread of the virus. His remarks follow news that 226 cases of Covid-19 have been identified in counties Kildare, Laois and Offaly in the last two weeks, with many directly linked to meat factories across the region. 

Speaking today, Senator Gavan said: 

“We urgently need to understand why this sector is so prone to outbreaks of Covid-19. I am deeply concerned that poor working conditions, which have been present in many aspects of the industry for years, may be contributing to the spread of the virus. 

“I believe it’s not only linked to the close proximity of workers in these factories but is also a result of the very low rates of pay which sees many workers sharing cars to work and also sharing accommodation. 

“Furthermore, the vast majority of workers in these factories have no recourse to sick pay, which makes it more likely that they will go to work even if they are feeling unwell, as they have no other means of supporting themselves or their families. 

“At the heart of all of this is the fact that most workers are paid just a little above the minimum wage in what is a very profitable industry. 

“I support calls for Meat Industry Ireland to ensure there is blanket testing for Covid-19 taking place at all plants throughout the country. However, much more needs to be done. A good start would be for Meat Industry Ireland to recommend to its members that they engage with trade unions. 

“Too many factories have policies of outright hostility to trade unions and this is just not acceptable. Union officials must be able to access meat factories to monitor health and safety compliance; this role is more important now than ever in the midst of this pandemic.”

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