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Exploitation in the Red Meat Sector must end before expansion of employment permit system in Ireland

13 April 2021

Responding to the Meat Industry Ireland’s (MII) presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, committee member and Labour employment spokesperson Senator Marie Sherlock said that there are serious questions for the red meat sector in supporting an expansion of the employment permits system in Ireland.

Senator Sherlock said:

“MII have failed to provide sufficient evidence of their efforts to recruit and train workers here in Ireland and within the EU for general operatives and skilled workers within the red meat sector.

“The sector has pointed to efforts “to mining the live register” and to putting over 600 workers via Skillsnet training, yet the reality remains is that this is very arduous work at minimum rates of pay and often with terrible working conditions, with intimidating management controls and very low availability of paid sick leave.

“It is not credible that the MII members have exhausted all efforts to recruit here and that the reasons for their high reliance on permits relate to minimisation of their labour costs and minimisation of worker turnover as employment permits severely curtail worker mobility.

“The sector has very serious questions to answer about why there are repeated reports of exploitative work practices by employers within the sector, the latest appearing last weekend in the Irish Mail on Sunday which reported that some red meat workers are being forced to take on “fake” identities in order to access employment.

“Last summer, there were reports of workers taken on through a Polish employment agency which left them without access to basic social welfare here in Ireland including illness benefit, a truly hazardous practice in the middle of a global pandemic. SIPTU report that in their survey funding, just only one in ten workers in the meat industry have access to paid sick leave. MII claim that the figure for their member companies is one in five. In sectors like the meat industry, workers who are ill are being faced with an impossible choice between their wages and their health. A number of workers have also reported to us that they are or have been bogusly self-employed in the sector.  

“Ultimately, there remain very serious concerns about the employment model in the red meat sector. Despite assurances of on-site testing and major improvements in Covid compliant practices, there have been 1030 incidents of Covid associated with meat and poultry production workplaces between the eight months of August 2nd and April 3rd processing sector. The living conditions of these workers and why they are forced to live in these conditions is serious concern not only for public health but for the dignity of these workers.

"The very high rate of breaches found from a very small number of WRC inspections is extremely worrying and warrants much greater investigation of employment practise in the sector before it is “rewarded” with additional employment permits.

“Every worker deserves the basic right to dignity in the workplace. Meat factory workers are not being provided with this fundamental respect by either Government in terms of the level of workplace inspections or the industry body which represents the sector. Workers are subjected to low pay and extremely challenging working conditions and the business model reliant on by the bosses is importing cheap labour in.

"The sector is dominated by a tiny number of very large and very secretive businesses that operate under unlimited company status meaning no one can access their accounts. This sector needs serious attention from the Government to protect the workers currently employed before a single consideration is given to extending the employment permits for the sector.”