Poor conditions and low pay to blame for meat factories' labour shortages - Siptu

Picture: (Brian Lawless/PA)
Picture: (Brian Lawless/PA)

Declan O'Brien and Margaret Donnelly

Attempts by the meat factories to secure additional employment permits for non-EU workers have been blasted by the trade union SIPTU.

MII confirmed to the Farming Independent that it is seeking an increase in the 1,500 work permits that have been granted for meat processing operatives, citing a "critical" labour shortage in the sector.

However, SIPTU poured cold water on the need for additional permits, and blamed the meat industry's difficulties in retaining workers on low pay and poor conditions.

"There is no need for the allocation of work permits outside of the EU - workers will stay with the industry in Ireland if they are given the opportunity to make a living wage and have decent terms and conditions," said Michael Browne of SIPTU.

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"This industry can without doubt afford to improve the terms and conditions for new and existing workers.

"We want to see a sustainable industry, but it must be on the basis that workers' rights and entitlements are up there on the agenda.

Claiming that wage rates had been "depressed to the minimum", Mr Browne said MII had failed to engage with the union regarding working conditions in the sector.

Claiming that wage rates had been "depressed to the minimum", he said MII had failed to engage with the union regarding working conditions.

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"Workers in this industry share common cause with the beef farmers supplying the cattle: neither is getting just reward for their efforts," Mr Browne said.

Many workers who were temporarily laid off during the beef protests in August/September have not returned to the industry, a MII spokesman confirmed. Although 300 permits for non-EU workers were issued to the meat industry earlier this year, MII said more were now required.

Processors claim that it is increasingly difficult to get staff as the economy moves towards full employment.

But SIPTU said the meat processing industry's difficulties in finding and retaining staff have more to do with pay and conditions than with national employment levels.

"The difficulty in recruiting new workers into the meat industry is that the jobs are no longer seen as a career," Mr Browne said.

"The industry has de-skilled what were highly skilled jobs, apprenticeships are rare, and opportunities to progress in the industry are limited. This decline was managed.

"During the beef factory blockades we requested discussions with MII and had our request was rejected.

"This industry is facing difficulties and the stakeholders with the biggest numbers involved, the workforce, are denied any collective voice at the level of MII."

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