Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, confirmed in the Dáil that his department is aware of six clusters of Covid-19 in meat plants and locally, in the Longford/Westmeath, there are “ongoing issues”.
Fine Gael Deputy Peter Burke said he is aware of “ongoing issues at meat plants in the constituency”, added that he “understands that management are working with state agencies to find a solution to safeguard the health and safety of workers”.
Dawn Meats confirmed that it has deferred production at its Kilbeggan facility following four confirmed cases of Covid-19 amongst workers.
Minister Creed made the revelations about the clusters last Thursday evening in the Dáil, after he responded to Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture Brian Stanley TD, who highlighted concerns over the Rosderra Meats facility in Roscrea.
Deputy Stanley said workers at that plant and other plants have raised major concerns with him over the past number of weeks about the lack of proper protections being put in place to reduce the risk of Covid-19 clusters developing in their workplaces.
“The figures for the rate of infection of staff there (Roscrea) are staggering; with over 120 people testing positive and in the region of 140 out sick last week - out of a total production staff of 350,” remarked Deputy Stanley.
His Longford/Westmeath party colleague, Deputy Sorca Clarke said she has taken calls from workers in a number of sectors who are genuinely concerned about non-compliance of measures in their workplaces, be it social distancing, access to hand sanitiser or hand washing facilities.
Deputy Clarke added, “These workers are fearful of being exposed to Covid19 and also of bringing the virus home with them to their families and, in some cases, loved ones with pre-existing serious medical conditions.”
She remarked that the “fiasco” in Roscrea “underlines the need for strict enforcement of health and safety measures, and highlights the need for greater oversight and quicker responses to deal with Covid-19 outbreaks in meat plants”.
Deputy Clarke concluded, “The health and safety of workers and their families has to be paramount if we want to protect jobs in the food industry and the food supply chain.”
A statement from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine to this newspaper read, “The Department is aware that individual (meat factory) operators have put a variety of measures in place consistent with the layout and operating procedures in individual plants.
“As in all places of work, Covid-19 cases may occur in these settings. Where this arises, it is critically important that the employer engages closely with the HSE locally to ensure that appropriate steps are taken.
“The Department understands that where such cases have occurred there has been constructive engagement by plant operators with the HSE.”