No active cases of Covid-19 in meat plants, but industry remains vigilant

July 10, 2020

There are no active cases of Covid-19 in Irish meat plants and 97% of workers who contracted Covid-19 have completed their isolation and returned to work. This update will be contained in the opening statement for the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response today by Meat Industry Ireland (MII).

Meat Industry Ireland will explain to the Committee that the stringent control and mitigation measures introduced since mid-March by the industry are working, but that MII members remain vigilant to ensure that any future outbreaks are avoided.

Over 60 different prevention and control measures are being implemented by meat plants in response to the pandemic including enhanced PPE, staff training, temperature checking, Covid-19 signage, and enhanced sanitation and biosecurity protocols. Where needed to assist physical distancing, perspex dividers have been installed to separate side by side contact between employees.  Other steps taken include changes to rosters and shifts, reduced line speeds, and the introduction of masks, face visors or goggles.

Extensive measures had been implemented across plants from mid-March, well before the “Interim Guidance on Covid-19 in meat processing” was issued  by the HSE on 15th May, and since then all additional recommended measures have been fully complied with.

Verification of this has been overseen by a series of inspections conducted by the Health and Safety Authority, and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) veterinary staff who have a permanent presence in meat plants. 

Where cases of Covid-19 have been detected, MII members have quickly responded by following the appropriate self-isolation advice for all employees who showed virus symptoms or who tested positive. MII members also traced close contacts who were also asked to self-isolate. The precautionary principle has been followed, taking no risks with identified positive cases and close contacts, and excluding them from the workplace. 

Addressing concerns that have been raised about the employment status, pay and conditions of worker in meat plants, Mr Healy explained that 80% of workers in the sector are from Ireland or the EU, but that due to skills shortages in recent years, workers have also come to Ireland through the Government’s Employment Permit System. All employees coming under this scheme have the same employment rights as other workers and are paid at rates above the minimum wage.

Cormac Healy, Director of Meat Industry Ireland said: “The industry has worked tirelessly to protect employees throughout the course of this pandemic and continues to do so. Our members took very extensive measures early in the crisis to reduce risks, and continually revised and enhanced their approach in line with all relevant guidance. 

“With no active cases in our meat plants today and 97% of all affected staff having safely returned to work, we believe that significant progress has been made, but we must remain vigilant and ensure safety protocols stay in place.  We commend all workers in the sector for their efforts during these times and thank them and their families for helping ensure that the essential service of food production has been able to continue.”

Meat Industry Ireland (MII) is the Ibec trade association representing the meat processing sector in Ireland which accounted for almost €4 billion of food exports in 2019, into the UK, the EU and world markets.   The meat sector contributes to the incomes of 100,000 farmers, employs some 16,000 people directly and comprises approximately 50 major processing sites all over Ireland.