Thursday, 21 May 2020
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in Meat Processing Plants: Statements
Michael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
The impression has been created by Deputy Duncan Smith that this is a workforce dominated by migrant workers. He referred to 70% to 90% of them being migrant workers. We need to deal in facts. The largest ethnic group working in the meat industry here comprises Irish people. The overwhelming majority of people working in Irish meat plants are citizens of Ireland or other European Union countries. As the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, stated, there is a minority of workers who are migrant workers on work permits. As she pointed out, it is important to note that there are terms and conditions regarding issues such as wages for such employees. Their wages are above the minimum wage requirement.
They obviously have access to the same employment rights legal framework as every other worker.
The Deputy's proposal about convening a task force has a familiar ring to it in the context of another task force in my Department on beef matters. I am really disappointed and shocked he would say that he does not accept the figures published by the Minister for Health regarding the number of meat workers who have been contaminated and have gone back to work. The Deputy is entitled to his own opinion but he is not entitled to his own facts. These are the facts as confirmed by the HSE. If we start undermining confidence in the figures that are published on these matters then we are on a hiding to nothing. We can disagree on the interpretation of facts but the facts are that 60% of the 828 workers are back at work. Any one case is a tragedy for the individual and his or her family and we need to work to ensure that there are no more cases. I have replied to the request from SIPTU indicating that I do not intend to convene such a task force because the welfare of these workers in the context of Covid-19 is adequately provided for through the national outbreak team. The latter has access to experts in the disciplines of public health, occupational health, environmental health, health and safety, as well as to the veterinary expertise within my own Department. These are the disciplines that are needed around the table, informing the decisions that need to be taken in individual plants, up to and including closure if that is what the experts determine is necessary.