Jack Quann
Jack Quann

19.42 16 Jul 2020


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A meat factory worker has hit out at 'assumptions' made about the sector as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

'John' is a safety manager at a meat factory which employs over 500 staff.

He was responding to claims by Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy over evidence given by Meat Industry Ireland to the Dáil's COVID-19 committee last week.

Mr Carthy described Meat Industry Ireland as "one of the most secretive bodies in the country and the sector operates in a way in which transparency isn't always as we would feel that it should be.

"I think the stand-out revelation that we heard from the meat industry representatives today was that the HSA inspections, which started far too late... but not a single one of them was unannounced."

"For many of the other questions that members had, the answers weren't there or weren't as clear as we would have liked."

On migrant workers, Mr Carthy said representatives "indicated that there's nothing to see here, that everybody is there because of the love of the job.

"They didn't accept my premise that perhaps one of the reasons why over 70% of the employees of meat factories are migrants has something to do with the wages and the conditions of those centres.

"It's not to say those people aren't very welcome in our country... but when you see such a high percentage of people coming from outside of our country in order to get jobs there, then clearly there is signals with regard to the pay and conditions that operate therein".

He also said preventative measures should have been put in place sooner.

But 'John' told The Hard Shoulder: "When I heard the interview with Mr Carthy it really upset me for the entire weekend, because I know the level of effort and work that we've put in here.

"We've had no cases in our factory at all.

"The impression I got from the interview with Mr Carthy - he kind of painted some picture of some kind of a sinister set of companies who are exploiting workers for a start.

"That couldn't be further from the truth, really."

"We do have a lot of foreign workers that work in our factory, but we do have trade unions.

"The impression that I picked up from it was we recruit foreign workers directly because they're foreign [and] somehow that we can take advantage.

"We have staff here that are going on over 10 years, some approaching 20 years, and a great relationship between all the nationalities in the factory.

"And we have SIPTU representation in the factory, who are also safety representatives who are nominated by the staff to represent them in the factory.

"So it's very easy to throw out assumptions about how factories are run without being in them, which is what I took from his interview".

"Possibly one of the reasons it can spread inside the meat factories would be that it's quite moist - the areas are very wet and it's quite cool".

"But the measures we've taken I think is what's really important".

He said mandatory nose and mouth coverings have been in place since the beginning of March.

"I think what we've seen in some other factories, across in England that is when they test it - and in Ireland - that a huge percentage of the people are asymptomatic.

"We could very well have had an asymptomatic case come in and out of our factory here, I don't know... but through your preventative measures is only way really that you can control it."

However he admitted that there has not been testing of staff "because we've had no cases whatsoever, we don't fall into the criteria where we would have testing".

Main image: File photo of cows grazing at a farm in Sweden. Image: Adam Ihse/AP/Press Association Images

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COVID-19 Committee John Matt Carthy Meat Factory Worker Meat INdustry Ireland Sinn Fein The Hard Shoulder

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