SIPTU Manufacturing Division Organiser, Greg Ennis, said: “As it has been widely reported, workers in the meat processing industry in Ireland have suffered greatly as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic. There have been a total of 1056 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections of meat processing plant workers out of a total workforce of approximately 15,000.
“There are thousands of SIPTU members employed in this relatively low paid industry. SIPTU representatives were requested to make a submission through the ICTU to the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 Response on 16thJune. However, union representatives have not been requested to attend the meeting of the Committee on this issue despite the many and important issues we wish to raise.
“SIPTU was the first representative body to raise concerns about the numerous vectors within the meat processing industry, which it is believed gave rise to Covid-19 transmission within these workplaces. The union first publicly raised its concerns in March 2020, and in writing to the then Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed in April and May.
“In April, SIPTU representatives also called for mandatory temperature testing for all entrants to meat processing facilities, this call was largely ignored. In May, SIPTU representatives jointly with the Migrant Rights Council of Ireland wrote a letter of complaint to the Health and Safety Authority CEO, Sharon McGuinness, following her admission at the Oireachtas Committee that no Covid related Health and Safety inspections had taken place at meat plants up to 17th May. This was a staggering admission, particularly when one considers that the number of Covid-19 clusters in the meat processing industry had jumped from six in April to 16 in May, with 850 confirmed cases by May 20th.
“Meat Industry Ireland has also refused to engage with SIPTU representatives concerning the wellbeing of its members’ employees. Such an approach is not in keeping with the common purpose shown by most other organisations in the attempt to defeat the worst ravages of the Covid pandemic.
“SIPTU representatives have requested that we be given the opportunity to address a further sitting of this Committee on the meat processing industry, as we believe the evidence we would give orally, as well as through our previously submitted paper, will greatly assist its work. It will also ensure that we learn from our recent experiences, so that we can prevent a ‘second wave’ of Covid-19 spreading through meat processing plants as has occurred in other countries.”