Today, (Wednesday, 25th November), the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI) launched a damning report on the systemic culture of discrimination and dangerous working conditions across the meat sector in Ireland, with many employers putting profit before the health and safety of workers.
MRCI spoke to over 150* workers across thirteen counties. We heard from de-boners, cutters and trimmers, kill line operators, packing hall operators, chill room operatives, cleaners, supervisors, storage, dispatch and warehousing and lairage workers.
The research reveals a sector with low pay, poor terms and conditions and a disgraceful health and safety record. Almost 60 percent of respondents have been injured at work, which includes regular lacerations and bruises, repetitive strain, chronic back pain, skin disorders, eye injuries, bone fractures, loss of fingers and limbs, burns, and respiratory problems.
Workers explained that these injuries occur because of faulty tools or machinery; none or limited training on health and safety or on how to use equipment properly; lack of protective measures or equipment; exposure to toxic chemicals and high noise levels. 62 percent of respondents said they did not receiving enough training upon starting their jobs to do their work.
One worker said, “Most of the time if people are working on machinery, they are not being trained – there’s no guidelines on the machinery on what the operator must do.”
Another worker said, “When the factory needs to kill 500 cows, if people don’t show up we still have to meet that target – they get in inexperienced people and there’s loads of accidents as a result”
Bríd McKeown, Workplace Rights Coordinator with the MRCI said “This research shows that workers feel under pressure to work at unreasonable and unsafe speeds on the production line. Despite staff shortages during holidays or Covid-related absences, production levels are back on par with 2018 and exceed 2019 levels.”
The study also shows that workers are often expected to do the job of two people, which can lead to physical injuries. One worker said “The speed of the line has to change. De-boners who are paid per kilo are under pressure to make the production line go fast. You have to be a robot to catch up with the speed.”
Workers are treated as disposable, and there is a direct correlation between feeling replaceable and being afraid to speak out and lose your job and immigration status. This study shows that there are many instances of bullying and discrimination. 43 percent of workers felt verbally bullied and 35 felt psychologically bullied. Of those, the vast majority, 96 percent, said their employer did not take effective action after they complained.
One worker said, “We suffer racism and discrimination, all of the time we are forced to do the worst and heaviest work because we are migrants and don’t have access to rights.”
McKeown, continued, “Not a single worker surveyed said they felt valued at work. Despite years of experience in the sector, meat workers face a culture of oppression in their workplace, low wages and lack of progression, and poor health and safety standards.”
She concluded, “We need the government to take this seriously and to act in the interests of workers not just big business. We need a new approach to the meat sector, one that values transparency and accountability. We are calling on the Government to establish a Joint Sub-Committee of Business and Agriculture to oversee this, and for an overhaul of the work permit system so that workers can change jobs and stand up to exploitation without fear of becoming undocumented.”
Caroline França – 083 888 9185
Bríd McKeown – 085 862 1862
Notes to Editor
The survey heard from people with the following nationalities: American, Belarusian, Botswanan, Brazilian, Bulgarian, Chinese, Estonian, Filipino, Georgian, Hungarian, Irish, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Moldovan, Nigerian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, South African, and Ukrainian.
- Almost 60% of workers surveyed said they had been injured whilst working at a meat plant in Ireland
- 62% of workers said they had not received enough training when they started their jobs
- 90% of workers are not covered by occupational sick pay schemes in the event of injury or illness
- 28% of the workers on the lowest salaries (€12.00 and below) have been working for between four to 15 year
- 27% said they are not paid extra if they work overtime
- 43% felt verbally bullied / 35% felt psychologically bullied / 96% said their employer did not take effective action
- Top reasons for discrimination were related to nationality and race/ethnicity
- 87% of workers said that they had not had the opportunity to progress or be promoted since starting in their workplace
- Not a single worker surveyed said they felt valued
*Our methodology was developed to enable workers to overcome barriers often experienced when raising concerns. Barriers include a culture of fear in speaking out and fear of reprisals, including loss of employment and the loss of immigration status; exhaustion from working long hours; language accessibility; and a mistrust of authorities and institutions as a result systemic failure to protect workers. For many meat factory workers, this is the very first time they have spoken out about the conditions they are facing. The survey was translated into Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Romanian and Russian to improve accessibility and accuracy in responses.