New approach needed to ensure a sustainable future for meat processing and workers - Congress

4 Mar 2021

ICTU Ireland's Meat Processing Sector Feb 2021

The Government and meat processors need to adopt a new approach to meat processing and to meat processing workers in particular if the sector is to have a sustainable future in Ireland.

That’s according to ICTU General Secretary Patricia King, who was speaking on the launch of ICTU’s policy paper Ireland’s Meat Processing Sector – from a low-road to a high-road strategy.

The policy paper, which was produced by ICTU and affiliated trade unions, compares Ireland’s (red) meat processing sector with those of Ireland’s main European competitors (i.e. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK) in the years after 2008 and in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It points out that Government and the meat processing industry have pursued an unsustainable ‘low-road’ approach over recent years based on low investment, low pay, and poor working conditions, all of which left it particularly ill-placed for the pandemic. And it makes a number of recommendations to ensure that the sector can better address Covid-19 and is better positioned to face the challenges of Brexit, changing consumer preferences, price developments, and climate change, amongst others.

Ms King said: ‘The report highlights that not only was Ireland’s meat processing business model not working on its own terms, as evidenced by stagnating turnover-per employee and value-added per employee due to under-investment, but it also was not working for beef farmers, and most certainly not working for meat processing workers, who have to endure low pay and poor working conditions. The fundamental weaknesses and frailties of this model were laid bare by the way in which Covid-19 hit meat processing in Ireland worse than in many other countries.

Greg Ennis, SIPTU’s manufacturing division organiser, who helped produce the report, said: ‘Only one in five meat processing workers receives sick pay and one in five of all meat processing workers in Ireland has contracted Covid-19 since the pandemic began. The continuing failure to act on the October 2020 recommendation from the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 to introduce mandatory sick pay in the meat processing sector and in all low-paying.

Ms. King called on the Government and meat processors to now engage with ICTU and unions on the analysis set out in the report and on implementing its recommendations, particularly calling for the establishment of a Meat Processing Sector Taskforce bringing together all the main stakeholders in this sector to plot out a roadmap towards a sustainable future for this sector.

Ms King said: ‘The international evidence - from the OECD, the EU, and others - is clear: engaging with trade unions and collective agreements not only improve pay and working conditions for workers but also raise productivity.

Ms King added that this particular recommendation was entirely consistent with the commitment in the Government’s 2020 programme for government (p.122) to create new models of sectoral engagement’, and that she was now seeking a meeting with the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Charlie McConalogue TD on the report.

The full report can be read here: https://www.ictu.ie/download/pdf/ictu_irelands_meat_processing_sector_feb_2021.pdf