Reporter Brian O’Connell spoke to two people currently working in meat processing plants about workplace safety, their working conditions and what they say is inadequate protection from the potential spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.
The workers were from two separate meat plants and did not wish their identities to be revealed. To facilitate this, their testimonies were voiced by other people. No representative from the meat industry was available to speak on the programme. Meat Industry Ireland released a statement – link to it can be found on Brian O’Connell’s Twitter feed here.
The workers Brian spoke were concerned and fearful about what they see as inadequate protection from potential transmission of COVID-19 in the workplace. They also raised issues of inadequate sick pay provision, low pay and the vulnerability to infection while living in close quarters with fellow workers, sometimes in accommodation that is provided by the employer.
In the case of the second meat plant worker Brian spoke to, there had been several cases of COVID-19 already in that person’s workplace. The worker was distressed at what they said was a lack of testing, contact tracing, insufficient protective equipment and no social distancing. The worker says that working conditions at the meat processing plant make social distancing impossible:
“There’s been no social distancing. It can’t be because of the way the production is. So it’s been very hard and people have been on top of each other, shoulder to shoulder. There’s been no 2 metre distance on the floor or on the production line.”
The worker said that there has been a lack of adequate protective equipment available and sanitising facilities are only available at the entrance to the plant. They also say that temperature testing had not been carried out until recently, and with these changes, they feel unsafe in a workplace where COVID-19 has been present, but testing is not:
“At the moment, as we don’t know if there is any contact tracing being done, when someone has been caught with the virus, you wouldn’t know who else will be caught with the virus, because there is no testing done at all.”
According to the whistleblower, the section of the workplace where people who have had the virus were working should have been closed down, but it was not. Even after other workers became sick, no changes were made to social distancing, nor was a deep clean of the facility carried out. Brian asked the worker what they would like to see happen now:
“I would like the management, the employers to really look at the workers and start to value the workers and I’d like the health and safety to be done properly.”
In addition to the two whistleblowers in Brian O’Connell’s report, Sarah McInerney also spoke about issues relating to the working conditions of meat plant workers in relation to COVID-19 with Edel McGinley, Director of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, & Denis Naughten, Independent TD Roscommon Galway. You can listen back to the full segment here.
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