Meat sector not prepared to have sick pay scheme on table – Siptu

Union says progress made on some measures to protect workers but not on sick pay

Representatives of employers in the meat-processing sector are refusing to engage on an industry-wide agreement on sick pay and pensions for staff, Siptu has said.

Unions and Opposition politicians have argued that the absence of sick pay may have contributed to the high number of Covid-19 cases associated with meat plants.

Speaking following a meeting with Meat Industry Ireland, Siptu divisional organiser Greg Ennis said progress had been made on other elements of a proposed charter or code of practice for the sector, including safety measures to protect workers against Covid-19, testing for the coronavirus and inspections of plants.

Talks on these issues are expected to reconvene between Siptu and employers in the meat processing sector later this month.

Meat Industry Ireland said after the meeting that pay and conditions were not matters within its mandate but rather rested with individual employers.

Mr Ennis said he was disappointed that the organisation was not prepared to engage in a process aimed at introducing a standardised across-the-board agreement on sick pay and pensions.

He said the union would now engage with individual employers where sick pay arrangements are not in place.

Meat Industry Ireland senior director Cormac Healy said his organisation and Siptu were in agreement "on the importance of ensuring measures are in place to protect workers from Covid-19 and continuity of business, which also protects workers' livelihoods."

He said the differences between the Meat Industry Ireland and Siptu proposals related to suggested measures on pay and conditions put forward by Siptu. “Pay and conditions are not matters within Meat Industry Ireland’s mandate and rest with individual employers, to be agreed in line with their normal policies and procedures.”

Labour Bill

The meeting between Siptu and Meat Industry Ireland took place just hours after the Labour Party published a new Bill to bring in paid sick leave and cover for parents when their child’s school or childcare provider is closed due to an outbreak of Covid-19.

The Labour Party proposed that the new legislation should provide a right to paid sick leave of up to six weeks at the same rate as annual leave.

"There is no right to paid sick leave in Ireland and it is an enormous hole in the protections which workers need to prevent them from being forced to go to work while sick," said party leader Alan Kelly.

"Ireland is an outlier in Europe in not having paid sick leave, and it has been highlighted by [the National Public Health Emergency Team] and the acting chief medical officer as a problem in controlling outbreaks," he said."The pandemic has exposed many injustices and inequalities across our society for everyone to see. The Covid outbreaks in meat-processing plants has put a spotlight on the working conditions in many sectors, especially among low paid and non-unionised workers."

“The current rules on sick pay and illness benefit act as a disincentive for workers to comply with public health guidelines as they may be left with reduced or no income. This Bill would create a level playing field.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent