Ex-meat plant workers speak of virus fears but acknowledge measures and investment

Ex-meat plant workers speak of virus fears but acknowledge measures and investment

A CORK-BASED former meat plant worker has spoken of having been in fear of contracting Covid-19 while working in a processing factory in recent months.

A CORK-BASED former meat plant worker has spoken of having been in fear of contracting Covid-19 while working in a processing factory in recent months.

The man, who is Polish and who has since left the industry, acknowledged the efforts and investment put into making the factory safe. He and his wife both picked up the virus while working in the meat processing industry. They were asymptomatic but knew two workers who were seriously ill in hospital with the virus.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre data up to September 28, there were 11 meat plant workers who required intensive care in hospitals. They were among 34 meat plant workers nationally who needed to be hospitalised after contracting the high contagious virus.

"Myself and my wife returned to work after a positive test and 3 weeks of self isolation," he told The Echo. "For the whole [month] employees who stayed on self isolation started to return to work."

He added: "Fear was never-ending, employees were afraid of possible virus contraction."

Workers typically work an eight hour day but were working up to ten hours a day to help meet the market demands, because of the number of people who were out sick.

He claimed that there was no sick pay for people who were out sick with the virus.

And he also claimed that staff were moved temporarily between plants.

This was echoed by another former staff member, who said workers were moved around to help cope with the number of absentees because of the virus.

She also said there was a concern that the plant would have to close because of falling numbers due to absences because of sickness and close contacts.

"There was a fear the plant would be closed because the numbers were getting low," she said. "There were managers on the line boning the animals as well - it was a case of all hands on deck."

However both acknowledged that many steps had been taken by their employer to make the plant safe.

She said: "It was definitely a massive challenge. It was the number of close contacts which were nearly a bigger issue than the number of positive cases. People were very nervous about being on the site. But the company heavily invested in control measures, including screens for divisions."

This was echoed by the Polish worker, who said the company provided masks and face shields and provided extra space for changing and breaks. However, he said there was no social distancing in the packing area, with people close to each other wearing face shields.

Last month, The Echo revealed that no improvement or prohibition orders have been made by the Health and Safety Authority against meat plants in Cork.

According to the agency, 22 inspections have been carried out at Cork meat plants from May 1 to September 22.

The authority did not reveal a breakdown of how many inspections were carried out in each of the plants in Cork.

In recent weeks, SIPTU and Meat Industry Ireland drew up a safety protocol for workers in meat plants.

According to SIPTU, the protocol includes a commitment to maintaining serial testing of meat plant workforces, ongoing health screening, temperature testing, the mandatory use of appropriate Personal Protective Equipment and stringent hygiene controls.

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