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Siptu: Number of Covid-19 cases among meat factory workers a 'scandal'

High clusters of coronavirus at meat plants will be the focus of the Covid-19 Response Committee today.

It will discuss the 850 confirmed cases of the virus and 16 clusters within meat processing facilities.

Meat Industry Ireland Senior Director Cormac Healy will be grilled when he appears before the meeting this afternoon.

Committee Chairman, Deputy Michael McNamara says steps must be taken by the sector to prevent further cases.

"I will be seeking assurances, as will the rest of the committee, that measures have been put in to ensure that we don't have anymore outbreaks in meat plants, that the workforce is now in a position to continue their important work that they carry out more safely than they were and that lessons have been learned."

Mr McNamara said that workers in meat plants are vulnerable to the virus.

"A part of that may stem from the type of work which is required of people - that they had to work in close proximity to others.

"There is also the issue around accommodation where people who work in meat factories."

Trade union Siptu says its members are furious that their union has not been asked to appear before the committee today.

It says the meat industry has refused to engage with it during the pandemic - in stark contrast to co-operation between bosses and unions in construction.

Siptu manufacturing divisision organiser Greg Ennis says it is an insult to the 6,000 workers it represents in the meatpacking sector.

He says they have been largely ignored throughout the crisis.

"We're outraged to put it mildly. We have been raising these issues publicly right back since March.

"We have consistently sought mandatory temperature testing. We have written to the Health and Safety Authority about their admission in the Oireachtas on May 19 that they hadn't at that stage carried out inspections of meat plants, which we found incredible and that is putting it mildly.

"You have a situation where there is 1,056 workers who have confirmed cases of Covid within a workforce of 15,000 across the Irish meat processing industry. That is a scandal in itself."