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Ireland: Working to the Bone: The Experiences of Migrant Workers in the Meat Sector in Ireland

New research conducted with migrant meat factory workers in Ireland has revealed a systemic culture of discrimination and dangerous working conditions across the sector, with many employers putting profit before the health and safety of workers.

The research was carried out by the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland (MRCI). The researchers developed a methodology to enable workers to overcome the barriers usually faced 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 inaccessibility; mistrust of authorities and institutions as a result of systemic failure to protect workers. 

The main findings of the research are:

  • Almost 60% of workers surveyed said they had been injured while 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 workers on the lowest salaries (€12.00 per hour and below) have been working for between four and fifteen years;
  • 27% said of respondents said they are not paid extra if they work overtime;
  • 43% felt verbally bullied, 35% felt psychologically bullied and 96% said their employer did not take effective action as a result;
  • Top reasons for discrimination were related to nationality and race/ethnicity.

MRCI says that its research demonstrates that state institutions have failed - and continue to fail - workers. This sector relies on low wages to make a profit, and must change in order to better invest in the long-term health and safety of its workforce.

MRCI is calling for:

  • An urgent review and action by statutory bodies tasked with protecting workers in such a difficult and dangerous sector. Workers and their representatives need to be included in discussions on the future of the agri-food sector and sustainability;
  • An urgent reform of the Employment Permit system is needed. Improvements need to be made to enable workers to change employers, allow for mobility, and as a result, hold employers to account and reduce exploitation;
  • Sick pay should not be at the discretion of the employer: it should be a guaranteed right for anyone working in Ireland. Legislative change that introduces comprehensive and compulsory national employer sick pay without income level or time qualifiers is urgent;
  • The systemic racism and discrimination prevalent in this sector must be addressed head on;
  • Establishment of a Joint Sub-Committee to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Special Committee on COVID-19 and of this report.

Read the full report here.

Migrant Rights Centre
Posted by:
Country Coordinator Ireland