The failure of Government agencies and meat processors to respond to trade union warnings last March about risks to worker health was a factor in the high level of Covid-19 cases in Irish meat factories, a new report has claimed.
Approximately one in every 15 workers in the meat processing sector here were infected with the virus, and the report from EFFAT (European Federation of Food Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions) claims that "the slow response of Government and some statutory agencies to the concerns of unions contributed to the high number of cases."
The EFFAT analysis of Covid-19 in meat processing plants across the EU, states that:
* In early March, Irish unions raised concerns with employers and public representatives about the potential spread of Covid-19 in meat factories;
* SIPTU (an affiliate of EFFAT) sought to engage with Government and the representatives of the meat processing industry throughout April to highlight their concerns, but "in the main their requests were ignored";
* Meat processors and Irish authorities failed to respond to early calls from SIPTU for mandatory temperature checking of workers at meat plants, and the practice has only latterly been adopted in some but not all sites;
* Meat factory owners have been slow to engage with the unions on worker-related issues.
The Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 heard recently that 1,115 meat factory workers were infected with the virus. There were 22 clusters with up 25pc of staff infected at some sites.
However, Meat Industry Ireland (MII) has stated that there are now no active Covid-19 cases in the meat industry.
The EFFAT report found that the high incidence of the virus in Irish meat plants mirrored the experience of some other EU states where there were significant Covid-19 clusters in meat factories.
The spread of the disease in meat factories was exacerbated by low wage levels and an absence of sick pay which meant that employees who should have been isolating still went to work because they couldn't afford to stay at home. Meanwhile, shared accommodation and car pooling, again because of the low pay levels, meant that social distancing protocols were not followed by meat factory workers in many instances.
The EFFAT report also claims that in Ireland "access to site (in meat processors) for trade unions is extremely challenging" and that "the lack of engagement from employers hinders any attempt to strengthen social dialogue."
New report highlights lack of action on health risks flagged by trade unions in early March