That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the protection of certain foreign nationals in employment in the State and for that purpose to amend the Employment Permits Act 2003, the Employment Permits Act 2006, the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984 and the Employment Permits Regulations 2017 and to provide for related matters.
I thank SIPTU and Migrant Rights Centre Ireland for their support for this Bill and for their work, along with others, in exposing the abuses and exploitation of migrant workers, and meat factory workers in particular, which this Bill seeks to address. I also thank my colleague, Deputy Bríd Smith, and Mr. Owen McCormack, who put a lot of work into developing this Bill. It is shameful that 90% of meat factory workers still, to this day, do not have access to sick pay. It was this time last year when I first raised in the Dáil how Covid-19 was being allowed to rip through the meat plants. The Government rallied to defend the beef barons, accusing me of smearing those companies. It took a sustained campaign by People Before Profit, the unions and others to get the State even to inspect the plants and discover that there was, in fact, a serious issue. The Government still prefers to ignore the clear exploitation and abuse of workers in this sector, especially migrant workers who are here on general employment permits. Many people feel they have to go to work, even with Covid symptoms, partially out of fear for their jobs and partially because they simply could not afford not to work. Despite a lot of talk, the Government has still not done anything about this, forcing People Before Profit to step in with this Bill to begin to address the issue. Our Bill would require the beef barons to provide sick pay by making it a condition for work permits. It would be an important step towards providing sick pay for all.
Yesterday, the Taoiseach, incredibly, told me that the meat plants had already "been dealt with", as if it was now under control. The truth is that the situation in the meat plants today is alarming. This morning's Health Protection Surveillance Centre, HPSC, report shows 28 open outbreaks across the 56 meat plants in the State and that six meat factory workers currently are hospitalised. Thousands of meat workers have caught this virus. Dozens have been hospitalised and some have ended up in intensive care units. The figures released do not say whether any have lost their lives but we know that many will suffer with the long-term effects for years to come. Yet the Taoiseach claimed the issue has been dealt with, that it is old news. It is clear which side he is on.
One objection I would expect to hear from the corporate lobbyists is the claim that they cannot afford to pay sick pay. Let us be clear, the beef barons could well afford to pay their workers sick pay; they just do not want to. A recent report stated "Nine companies in the Goodman Group [ABP] made a profit of €170 million last year and had assets worth more than €3.45 billion". The bulk of the profits were booked in Luxembourg and were largely untaxed. Moy Park, in 2019, had a turnover of €1.8 billion and profits of €81.5 million. Dawn Meats had a turnover of €2.1 billion. Kepak had a turnover of €1.5 billion. The list goes on. These are massive companies making major profits, yet they are refusing to pay sick pay and the Government refuses to make them. It will, ultimately, take a militant labour movement that forces changes whereby workers become organised and assert themselves. This Bill shows what Deputies can do to support workers. I encourage others to join People Before Profit in supporting and promoting this Bill to force the bosses to pay sick pay.