Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Brian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
I am sharing time with Deputies Carthy and Kerrane.
What we have here is a mess. There has been a massive escalation, with 880 cases confirmed. It is very worrying for the workers, in respect of their health and jobs, and other workers who are awaiting test results. I have been raising this with the Minister since Easter week and he has continually told me that he, his officials in the plants and other officials are sure all precautions are being taken. Whoever is telling the Minister this is telling him a load of bull. None of it tallies with the circumstances in many meat processing plants. Whatever about people wearing masks, some must be wearing blindfolds because what is being said does not tally with what workers have been telling me for the past seven weeks.
Some factories have taken the correct action and preventive measures, and I applaud them for doing so, but others have not. That is the reality. In Rosderra Meats in Roscrea, the first case appeared on 20 March. The unfortunate worker almost lost his life. He was critically ill. No testing was done at the time of close contacts of the worker. I have spoken to the families of other workers in the infected cluster. Testing of all workers was not done until 24 April and 25 April, a full five weeks later. After the tests were carried out, workers were sent back in to the production line without having their results. In some cases, they did not receive them until the following Wednesday. On the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, many of the workers continued to work. They turned out to be infected and they in turn infected other workers. One worker who became extremely ill with Covid was confined to bed and was seriously ill but company management still continued to contact him to ask him to come back to work because they were short of workers because so many were out sick.
In Edenderry, the first case was in early April. Even when the cluster comprised ten cases, all workers were still not tested. When they were tested last week - I raised the issue of testing with the Minister three weeks ago today in the Dáil - they were sent back to the production line without having the all clear, never mind a deep clean or anything else. This is crazy stuff. I have been talking to workers and their families about this and I noted they are very concerned. If I heard the Minister correctly on RTÉ on Sunday, he said that workers should not go back to work until they have the all clear. He mentioned who has been consulted but the ordinary workers in the plants are not being consulted. Management might have been. Worse still, many workers are being told they can do it or go home. That is what they have been told in the past. They have had to battle to get basic personal protective equipment. I am told that, in many cases, social distancing was only implemented prior to inspections.
In the Kildare chilling plant, where the Minister's officials are, one of those officials has gone out sick with Covid. No temperature testing has been done there up to the past couple of days. I checked again this morning. The HSE-led inspection teams carried out no inspections until this week. That has been confirmed, and confirmed again here today. None of what was required was done. Management in some factories seemed to know exactly when inspections were going to take place. That needs to be cleared up.
I have some straight questions on this. Will the Minister make it mandatory for all workers in meat plants to have their temperature taken daily? Will he state the number of Covid-related inspections to date? If a worker tests positive in a factory, will it be mandatory for all workers to be tested and put back on the production lines only when they have the all-clear?
Is it mandatory that all workers have PPE and, if so, when did that requirement come into place? The Minister's officials have engaged with management and owners. Will they now engage with the ordinary workers and the shop stewards on the production lines?