Meat processors continuing to recruit despite recent outbreaks

Umbrella group Meat Industry Ireland says the demand for workers within sector is no longer seasonal

  The Kildare Chilling Company, on the Dublin Road, Kildare Town

The Kildare Chilling Company, on the Dublin Road, Kildare Town

 

Meat processors are continuing to recruit workers amid the fallout from a recent controversy over Covid-19 outbreaks at some factories.

Confirmation of several coronavirus cases among workers at four plants this month forced them to suspend production and contributed to a Government decision to partially lock down Kildare, Laois and Offaly. The lockdown is expected to be lifted in Laois and Offaly but remain in place in Kildare.

Recruiters used to hire staff for the industry say they are continuing to get inquiries from processors seeking workers.

Cormac Healy, director of Meat Industry Ireland (MII) which represents businesses with sales of more than €4 billion a year in the Republic, confirmed that demand for labour in the sector continued.

“It’s been the same with recruitment over the past two or three years,” he said. “As the economy moved to full employment, people have struggled with labour availability.”

Mr Healy noted that meat processors’ need for staff continued through the year.

Traditionally, autumn was a busier period for beef processing, as farmers prepared for winter and brought animals in from grass. However, Mr Healy explained that official figures showed there was less seasonal variation in the numbers of cattle slaughtered in the Republic than in the past.

This is leading to constant demand for labour among MII members, who employ about 15,000 people in the Republic.

Mr Healy’s organisation represents primary processors, which slaughter animals, butcher them and sell the products to shops, restaurants, fast-food chains and the food service industry.

Members include leading names such as the Larry Goodman-led ABP Foods, Dawn Meats and Kepak.

Mr Healy pointed out that of 40 to 50 primary processing factories in the Republic, just one, Kildare Chilling in Co Kildare, suspended operations this month after workers tested positive for Covid-19.

The controversy highlighted concerns over pay and conditions throughout the industry, not just in the slaughtering business.

Trade unions want low-paid workers to be paid a living wage, and are also seeking an end to practices such as the use of sub-contractors.

Mr Healy said yesterday that among MII members, only 1 per cent to 2 per cent of workers are employed by agencies.

Processors hire most of their staff directly to full-time jobs, he added.

He also argued that it was inaccurate to say that the industry was based on the minimum wage. “While some production staff enter at the minimum wage and quickly progress, others enter at higher wage scales based on skills and experience,” Mr Healy said.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) plans to screen workers at meat factories. MII says test results should be confirmed within 24 hours, arguing that delays could disrupt production.

MII members have pledged to co-operate with the HSE on the introduction of the screening programme.