Posted: May 18th, 2020
It has been alleged that meat factory workers have had to return to work regardless of the fact that co-workers were displaying COVID-19 symptoms. It has recently been reported that the meat sector has been particularly rife with workers suffering from the virus with more than 600 cases being recorded.
In the Dáil Former minister and independent TD Denis Naughten has revealed that there are now clusters of infection surrounding meat plants “where the levels of infection within the plants themselves is up on one third or, in some instances, half of the workforce”. He added that, following some investigation, he discovered that staff did not self-isolate in the period between being tested and the results being returned which seriously undermines the validity of the negative results.
Due to this he has sought, and secured, sufficient Dáil support to ask Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed to explain how this situation was allowed to materialise at meat processing plants.
Mr Naughten said that failing to deal with this could result in many other issues. He said: “Ahead of the start of reopening the economy next week we must address the fundamental problems within the meat processing sector which could be replicated in other parts of industry and which could be catastrophic.”
“These failures in the system have resulted in new infection clusters in communities across the country which up to now had low levels of Covid-19 infection. If these fundamental issues are not addressed immediately, in advance of the easing of the lockdown next Monday, then we could very quickly be looking at a second spike in Covid-19 infections.
“After such heroic efforts by every citizen in the State to stop the spread of this virus we cannot allow a second wave of infection under any circumstances. So, while we must remain cautious in how we relax restrictions, we must also learn to live with Covid-19 which will be with us for a considerable time to come.”
Deputy general secretary of trade union SIPTU, Gerry McCormack, said that some meat processing plants “completely ignored” HSE guidelines on Covid-19. He said: “What seems to have happened is that some employers really didn’t take this seriously. Some of them did. Some employers completely ignored the recommendations from the HSE on how to do physical distancing and put in proper processes to protect workers.”
He added: “If you contrast, for example, the meat industry with the dairy industry which are both providing food throughout this country and abroad and we have very little, if any, outbreaks in the dairy industry. It’s a well paid, well-regulated industry, as compared to the meat industry. We had a problem from the very beginning in that some employers weren’t taking this seriously.”