Beef factories facing a labour crisis as workers exit the sector

Cattle prices remain steady but farmers fear glut of 100,000 stock could depress trade

Staffing issues now affecting meat industry (Brian Lawless/PA)
Staffing issues now affecting meat industry (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ciaran Moran and Martin Coughlan

Serious labour shortages at the country's meat slaughtering plants is curtailing the beef industry's capacity to return to full production in the wake of the recent farmer protests.

The farmer blockades at the meat factories were lifted over the weekend but plants are struggling to entice back some of the thousands of workers who were temporarily let go over the last fortnight.

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This has restricted the kill at the meat factories, with some slaughtering facilities expected to be at reduced capacity this week as a consequence.

A backlog of around 100,000 cattle has developed over the last two months as a result of the protests and the farm organisations fear that this overhang of stock could depress prices.

However, reports from the industry indicate that prices remain steady, with factories holding quotes for bullocks at €3.50c/kg, while heifers are said to be making €3.50-€3.60/kg.

In what could be a significant move, industry sources now suggest that Liffey Meats has committed to putting a floor under beef prices for the next six weeks.

It is understood a commitment has been given to hold the base price at €3.50/kg for steers and €3.60/kg for heifers on the grid until November 2.

Liffey Meats was contacted by the Farming Independent to confirm the agreement but declined to comment.

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Over the weekend, the final protests at Liffey Meats facilities in Cavan and Roscommon were stood down.

The Independent Farmers of Ireland (IFI) reiterated its support for the recent agreement between the factories and farm organisations, stating that it provided "a solid foundation for the future".

"The agreement is the beginning of something new, and although there are still many problems that face the beef industry in Ireland, it feels farmers can face them now from a different position than the picket lines," said an IFI spokesperson.

"The newly proposed [Beef] Taskforce will have the power to oversee all this, and therefore, the implementation of the proposed solutions is crucial."

“We feel this Taskforce is the key element of the proposal as it will be the police force of the agreement,” it said.

Meanwhile, IFA president Joe Healy said that as factories re-open, they must pay the increased bonuses in the deal with immediate effect.

“Factories should come forward with a strong base price and pay the new bonuses,” Mr Healy said.

“This agreement is not perfect, but I want to make it clear that it applies equally to all farmers regardless of their scale.”

Despite the resumption of killing at the factories, there are growing fears that the factories will struggle to slaughter finished cattle quickly enough to clear the backlog of forward stores coming off the land.

These difficulties could now be exacerbated by labour shortages.

The inability to move finished cattle has already hit the mart trade, with mart managers reporting reduced buying of forward stores by feedlots.

Struggling

In a statement yesterday Meat Industry Ireland (MII) confirmed that factories were struggling to get many of the estimated 6,000 employees temporarily laid off during the dispute to return to work in the sector.

“Beef processors are contacting employees who were regrettably laid off over recent weeks to inform them that they will be recommencing processing this week,” it said.

“Unfortunately, members are stating that some personnel will not be returning to work in the beef sector as they have gained employment in other sectors.”

The meat factories have struggled to retain workers as the economy has moved towards full employment over the last two years and have successfully lobbied the Government to grant work permits to the industry so that companies can hire staff from outside the EU.

This move was strongly criticised by the unions, who have blamed the meat factories’ difficulties in retaining workers on the fact that most are paid the minimum wage.

In other beef sector news, ICSA president Edmond Phelan said Aldi has committed to co-operating with the Beef Taskforce following a meeting with the farm organisation.


CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1

“We feel this Taskforce is the key element of the proposal as it will be the police force of the agreement,” it said.

Meanwhile, IFA president Joe Healy said that as factories re-open, they must pay the increased bonuses in the deal with immediate effect.

“Factories should come forward with a strong base price and pay the new bonuses,” Mr Healy said.

“This agreement is not perfect, but I want to make it clear that it applies equally to all farmers regardless of their scale.”

Despite the resumption of killing at the factories, there are growing fears that the factories will struggle to slaughter finished cattle quickly enough to clear the backlog of forward stores coming off the land.

These difficulties could now be exacerbated by labour shortages.

The inability to move finished cattle has already hit the mart trade, with mart managers reporting reduced buying of forward stores by feedlots.

Struggling

In a statement yesterday Meat Industry Ireland (MII) confirmed that factories were struggling to get many of the estimated 6,000 employees temporarily laid off during the dispute to return to work in the sector.

“Beef processors are contacting employees who were regrettably laid off over recent weeks to inform them that they will be recommencing processing this week,” it said.

“Unfortunately, members are stating that some personnel will not be returning to work in the beef sector as they have gained employment in other sectors.”

The meat factories have struggled to retain workers as the economy has moved towards full employment over the last two years and have successfully lobbied the Government to grant work permits to the industry so that companies can hire staff from outside the EU.

This move was strongly criticised by the unions, who have blamed the meat factories’ difficulties in retaining workers on the fact that most are paid the minimum wage.

In other beef sector news, ICSA president Edmond Phelan said Aldi has committed to co-operating with the Beef Taskforce following a meeting with the farm organisation.

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