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'A good few are positive' - meat factories cases now in double figures

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Some meat plants have seen high numbers of infections

Some meat plants have seen high numbers of infections

Some meat plants have seen high numbers of infections

There have been no known deaths among meat workers due to Covid-19 but the hold the virus has taken on the industry has raised fears of a second lockdown countrywide.

The number of staff from the big processing plants of the midlands that are currently hospitalised is believed to be "in double digits".

More cases were revealed last night following a spike in positive tests among staff at factories in Kildare and Offaly.

"I'm waiting for a test result," said a worker at Kildare Chilling last night, who did not want to be named.

"A good few of the boys in the beef end are positive and it seems to be going through the whole place.

Parties

"No one has shown symptoms, apart from one man who found it hard to breathe and is in hospital. There were barriers put up between us, but some people were lackadaisical and went to house parties."

Another six staff out of 42 tested positive at the family business O'Brien Fine Foods, which produces Brady's Ham. The new cases were revealed after almost a third of the workforce tested positive on Thursday, triggering the shutdown of the processing plant.

From the start of this pandemic, Covid 19 has become a scourge in meat plants.

The industry accounts for almost €4bn in food exports to the UK, EU and world markets and employs 16,000 people.

The first case at a plant was recorded on St Patrick's Day and there have been a number of clusters since.

Trade union Siptu forecast in June that if there is a second wave during the pandemic it will originate in a meat plant.

Cormac Healy, of Meat Industry Ireland, told a Dáil committee that he disagreed with the union last month.

Other industry representatives assured politicians they had "reached a point of perfection" with no active cases.

The meat processing bosses insist they have taken drastic measures to prevent outbreaks.

At O'Brien Fine Foods in Timahoe, daily temperature tests have been taking place since April.

Like other employers, they list a litany of measures taken to tackle the virus. These include the installation of Perspex screens between workers who bone meat in big halls, information bulletins in a variety of languages, mandatory PPE and deep-cleaning routines.

Solution

But unions claim some working conditions have helped create the perfect storm for the spread of the virus.

They say that key among these is the fact that 95pc of workers - who earn little more than the €10.10-an-hour minimum wage - do not have sick pay schemes.

Siptu divisional organiser Greg Ennis sees one main solution - repeated, blanket and mandatory swab tests.

At O'Brien Fine Foods, management brought in a private firm to get the testing done quickly because of a lack of HSE resources.

Siptu officials claim they have highlighted the vulnerability of the meat trade since Michael Creed was Minister for Agriculture but got a "negative response".