Failure to resolve the beef dispute within the coming days will force many businesses dependent on the industry to lay off staff, including many haulage companies involved in the export of Irish beef.
The dispute, which has resulted in pickets at many plants around the country, centres on the price of beef paid to farmers by processing companies.
IFA president Joe Healy has said the number of cattle slaughtered in Irish meat plants was down from between 70,000 and 80,000 to 50,000 in the last fortnight due to the dispute.
According to the president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, Verona Murphy, there are 80-100 Irish haulage companies involved in the export of Irish beef, which accounts for 90 per cent of all beef processed in Irish plants. But it is difficult to estimate the numbers directly employed in beef exports as few companies focus exclusively on transporting beef.
“We haven’t had reports of any great disruption so far, very few companies would be involved solely in exporting beef. We’re not hearing of any immediate impact but that could change as the reality is that this dispute is not going to end until everyone sits down around the table to start talks.”
And while the impact of the beef dispute may take some time to impact on the large haulage companies with diverse business interests, for one smaller Cork-based haulage company the dispute and the reduction in beef being processed is already beginning to have an impact.
Noel Hennessy, of Ballycotton Transport, said the drop is starting to have an impact on his business.
“We have 15 trucks and beef exports account for about 80 per cent of our business. We deliver for Dawn Meats to the continent, we usually have seven trucks a week bringing beef to the continent. We do loads to France, Belgium, Holland and Spain but we’ve noticed an easing back in the last two weeks.
“We collect from all the Dawn Meat Plants at Kilbeggan, Ballyhaunis, Charleville and Granagh but we were down from seven trucks to five trucks this week. We didn’t do France or Spain last weekend and if the dispute continues at the processing plants, I don’t know what I’m going to do with my drivers.”
He said he still has to pay his drivers though he doesn’t have enough work for them.
“I’m going to have to see can I get more loads for them because if I lay them off, I may not get them back because there’s a shortage of drivers in the haulage industry at the moment.
“When you are drawing beef all the time, it’s very difficult to break into something else overnight. I’m going to have to pay my men for a week or two but after that I’m going to have to see because it becomes a serious problem if this dispute isn’t resolved.”
Although beef exports are less critical to Shane Cummins of Cummins Transport in Co Wexford – 30 per cent of his work with his 20-strong fleet is beef exports – he echoes Hennessy’s fears.
“We normally bring beef to Italy but we’re already feeling the impact. We would normally have five or six trucks a week heading out but we’re down a couple of trucks the last two weeks. I would estimate our beef business is down 20 per cent,” he said.
“And it’s not just the beef that’s down, it’s all the byproducts from beef processing like hides and frozen offal which we transport as well.We haven’t had to lay anyone off yet but we will have to be looking for other business to replace the drop in our beef export business if this dispute isn’t solved.”