Meat factory workers speak about coronavirus measures at Cork plant

Meat factory workers speak about coronavirus measures at Cork plant
Pic; Larry Cummins

Workers in the meat plant in Watergrasshill say that employees have tested positive for Covid-19 despite strict measures by Kepak to prevent the virus in the factory.

Sources say “dozens” of workers at the plant have tested positive in recent days, after blanket testing of staff was carried out on Monday and Tuesday.

Around 650 people are employed at the plant.

One worker who contracted the virus said: “Temperature testing has been carried out at the gate for the last couple of months. 

"We were given letters and emails on what we should be doing. There was great hygiene and all breaks were on a phased basis.”

He added: “I am 100% happy with how the company has dealt with it.”

He said shuttle buses bringing staff to work at the plant were made more regular, to provide for social distancing on the trip to and from work.

PPE was in use, while perspex dividers were also put in place.

However, it is understood that some workers were car-pooling until recent days. Some workers are also in house-share arrangements with each other.

The plant remains open, but there is a much-reduced workforce at present.

Another source told The Echo: “On the rota there are a lot of people who are marked as sick but not all of them are positive.

"Some of them are on sick because of the contact tracing.”

As they spoke out, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed told The Echo that while keeping the food supply chain moving is a priority, public health has to be the most important consideration.

He said the national outbreak control team is now working in the sector to develop guidance for meat plants.

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Michael Creed
Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Mr. Michael Creed

“It is imperative that anything that is in the interest of public health should be done, up to closure if needed,” he said.

He added that if the national outbreak control team recommends the closure of affected plants, “so be it”.

Mr Creed, along with Business Minister Heather Humphreys and Health Minister Simon Harris, will be questioned in the Dáil next Thursday about the situation in the meat plants.

Independent TD Denis Naughten has been raising concerns about the industry since the first cases started to emerge in recent weeks at meat plants in Westmeath, Tipperary, and Offaly.

“There will be continued local outbreak control team involvement in the management of outbreaks in affected facilities,” said the HSE in a statement.

“In any confirmed outbreak of Covid-19, consultants from the Department of Public Health are involved in an outbreak control team and provide advice on the management of the outbreak.

“Where there are outbreaks in private settings, the local Department of Public Health gives clear advice to both the management and staff to support them in responding appropriately.”

Meanwhile, the Health and Safety Authority said that it will be ensuring compliance with the return-to-work safety protocol in all workplaces.

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