Congregated Settings: Meat Plants (Resumed)

I welcome Mr. Philip Carroll, chairman, Mr. Cormac Healy, senior director, and Mr. Joe Ryan, director, Meat Industry Ireland, who are seated in committee room 1. I thank them for coming here on a Friday afternoon.

I wish to advise the witnesses that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. If witnesses are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and they are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

I invite Mr. Carroll to make his opening remarks and ask him to confine them to five minutes to allow as much time as possible for questions and answers.

Mr. Philip Carroll

I thank the committee for inviting Meat Industry Ireland here this afternoon.

Meat Industry Ireland is the IBEC trade association that represents the meat sector in Ireland that accounted for almost €4 billion of food exports in 2019 into the UK, the EU and world markets. The meat sector contributes to the incomes of 100,000 farmers, employs some 16,000 people directly and comprises approximately 50 major processing sites all over Ireland.

While there have been challenging days for our sector in the course of this Covid-19 pandemic, the position on Covid-19 cases in the meat processing sector has significantly improved. Today, there are no active cases in our meat plants and our absolute focus is to maintain this position. Very substantial Covid measures have been put in place. We can confirm that over 97% of affected staff have now returned to work, and the remainder are completing their isolation and recovery. The stringent control and mitigation measures in place will be maintained in the weeks and months ahead, with no room for complacency. Vigilance is the priority as general restrictions are lifted across the economy.

Meat processing is a labour-intensive business, with limited automation available due to the complexity and product craftsmanship of meat processing. The sector is one of the few sectors that remained open for business throughout the lockdown.

The first confirmed case of Covid-19 was reported in Ireland on 29 February and first stage restrictions were announced by Government on 12 March. By then - weeks before we entered full lockdown - Meat Industry Ireland members had already introduced a series of mitigation measures which have since been updated to reflect evolving practice. It was not until 15 May 2020 that the HSE published its interim guidance on Covid-19 document specifically for the meat sector, some two months after MII members first implemented detailed mitigation measures across all meat establishments.

Where early cases of Covid-19 were detected, businesses quickly responded by following the appropriate self-isolation advice for all employees who showed symptoms or who tested positive. MII members also traced close contacts and they were also asked to self-isolate. The precautionary principle was followed, taking no risks with identifying positive cases and close contacts and excluding them from the workplace. A range of measures were identified and put in place with a singular and clear objective: to keep people safe.

The State moved to a full lockdown on 27 March, at which time the Government designated the meat sector among a range of essential services that would continue to operate during the lockdown. The first Covid-19 case was reported in a meat processing plant on 17 March. Further cases followed. As clusters began to form in certain sites the HSE provided collaborative oversight and assistance at local level. In all cases where clusters materialised, plant management engaged closely with the HSE and strictly followed the advice and direction of the HSE. Contact tracing was recorded and transmitted to public health authorities in respect of all sites. This has been publicly acknowledged by the HSE.

It became clear that many of the cases that emerged were identified among people who had shown no symptoms of the virus and who continued to work. Many of these asymptomatic cases were detected as part of wider screening tests conducted at sites under the direction of the HSE. This led to the emergence of a small number of clusters with significant positive cases and ultimately to the establishment of a national outbreak control team.

From the outset a comprehensive set of mitigation and prevention measures was implemented at site level. Covid-19 response teams were established. Risk assessments were conducted by senior plant management. Staff and union representatives were regularly briefed. Training was provided. Covid-19 signage and notices in all relevant languages were installed, as were additional and enhanced hygiene, sanitation and biosecurity protocols. Breaks and lunches were staggered to comply with physical distancing, including the creation of additional canteen and amenity capacity. Maintaining a 2 m gap between people posed particular physical challenges for parts of the meat processing production chain, especially in the deboning of the meat, which is a labour-intensive activity. To address this, Perspex dividers to separate side-by-side contact between employees were introduced and visors were used for employees facing each other on the production line, as recommended by current HSE policy guidelines. Other steps taken included: changes to rosters and shifts; a reduction in line speeds; the introduction of masks, face visors or goggles to complement personal protective equipment; and changes to workstation layouts.

A key message to all staff was that they should not enter the workplace if they experienced any of the known symptoms of Covid-19. As part of this, employees entering sites were required to complete questionnaires about Covid-19 symptoms and undergo temperature screening before entering sites. In addition, enhanced protocols were introduced in respect of all inbound and outbound animal supplies and product dispatch. These composite measures, numbering 60 or more, were implemented across plants some two months ahead of the interim guidance on Covid-19 provided by the HSE on 15 May. This guidance reinforced the robustness of the measures already put in place in meat plants. Where additional measures were recommended by the HSE guidelines they have been fully complied with.

Verification of this has been overseen by both the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine veterinary staff, who have a permanent presence in meat plants, and a series of inspections conducted by the Health and Safety Authority.

The challenges faced by the sector relating to Covid-19 have led to concerns being raised about the working and living conditions of meat processing personnel. It is unknown why, in meat processing facilities in countries such as the US, Germany, the Netherlands and elsewhere, the infection rates are high in some facilities while lower in other facilities, even in multiple-site companies that have common protocols across all sites.

I thank Mr. Carroll.

Mr. Philip Carroll

The same questions arise in Ireland as to why there have been high-level clusters, low-level clusters and plants with no cases at all. There remains uncertainty as to how and why large clusters have occurred. This is recognised as being a complex multifactorial problem with no clear and distinct conclusions. MII members are working with the authorities to examine all learnings from this episode so that a recurrence can be avoided.

I ask Mr. Carroll to conclude his opening remarks.

Mr. Philip Carroll

I am on my last few paragraphs. It is nonetheless true that there have been too many positive cases associated with meat plants, with every single one being one too many. That applies to every affected sector, not just meat processing. It is equally true that meat processing has had to face challenges within plants at the same time as the virus was spreading at a rapid pace in the community.

I thank Mr. Carroll. I am going to open to the floor.

Mr. Philip Carroll

May I just finish my final few words?

No. I have asked Mr. Carroll to limit himself to five minutes, as I have asked every other speaker who has been before the committee. He has now taken eight. I am going to open the floor to members to allow for questions and answers. I thank Mr. Carroll very much. His opening statement has been circulated in advance.

I thank Mr. Carroll and the other representatives from MII for attending today. I am aware the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, was responsible, before her appointment and as a member of this committee, for inviting MII in today. They are very welcome and I thank them for their opening remarks.

Following on from the earlier session, I will ask about the levels of meat produced in the sector normally and that produced during the Covid pandemic. Is Mr. Carroll aware of any rapid increase in production?

Mr. Philip Carroll

In the very early stages of the outbreak, when economies started to shut down, the very significant proportion of the output which would normally be destined for the food sector began to decline. This was because a large proportion of the restaurant and food service outlet sector across the globe - it must be remembered that we export right across the globe - completely shut down. The vast majority of what we produce, 90%, goes to EU and other international markets. This shutdown led to a period during which there was a substantially lower level of output. Subsequently, as the shutdown bit down hard right across the world, there was a growth in retail demand for meat products. That stabilised the production base at a higher level.

Is there a contact tracing register in place in each company or factory? Will Mr. Carroll enlighten the committee in that regard?

Mr. Philip Carroll

Contact tracing was one of the elements progressed early and rapidly within meat plants.

In every meat plant, having people on site who had tested positive for coronavirus was a substantial risk of the further spread of the virus within plants. Contact tracing was a fundamental part of the response by companies. For every single positive case that was identified in a meat plant, those associated with the individual were traced by members of staff in the plant and all of that information was comprehensively communicated to the HSE. It is interesting to note that, when some issues arose over data five or six weeks ago, the HSE was quick to point out that the level of contact tracing provided by factories was almost 100%.

Is Mr. Carroll saying that each factory or processor has a Covid officer? If so, what guidelines are issued to such officers and the owner of the factory or facility? Are the guidelines being communicated to staff? As we heard during the previous session, there are language barriers for some staff. Have the guidelines been translated into other languages so that all staff are aware of the various protocols and practices required within the factories?

Mr. Philip Carroll

From the outset, a Covid compliance officer was appointed in every plant. That officer was at senior plant management level. The first step taken was an assessment of risk at each point. For each point of risk, an enhanced measure of protection was implemented, tested for efficacy and further reinforced where deemed necessary. There is substantial engagement on all of those measures with all plant staff. In the circumstances in question, the risk was so great at plant level that every single element of every measure that was implemented in each of the plants needed to be communicated to every individual working across the different types of activity being conducted therein. This was the best way of mitigating risks. It was also the best way of ensuring that there was a lesser spread than could have occurred were nothing done.

In an association between MII and the companies concerned, the initial work done was to identify every single risk point, find a mitigation for it, design a protocol around it and ensure that such protocols were implemented across every site. The proof of the effectiveness of that has been in the response that we have seen from HSA inspections of plants, which have generally found that the measures taken are more than adequate for the intended purposes.

First, were those protocols communicated to all of the agents or companies? Second, were the companies notified in advance of the HSA inspections?

Mr. Philip Carroll

The answer to the first question is "Yes". All protocols were developed in conjunction with the companies. Committee members must remember that there are different site circumstances in each situation. The comprehensive set of guidelines covered all of the variances across the board.

Second, my understanding is that the HSA site inspections are undertaken on the basis of advance notice. That was the decision of the HSA and was in no circumstances influenced by any pressure that we may have put on it, which we did not. It was a clear situation. The HSA, in attempting to comply overall with the protocols, probably did not feel it appropriate to arrive at a site where there was a potential for Covid to spread. In essence, the HSA decided that it was better to notify plants that it was coming rather than to appear on their doorsteps.

There is also a permanent presence of departmental veterinary inspectors in all meat plants. They are there all year round, every day. As somebody once said, if there is a light on in a meat plant, there is a veterinary inspector from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine present. As far as we are concerned, it is entirely a matter for the HSA whether its inspections are announced or unannounced. It is entirely irrelevant to the meat plant operation in which circumstances the HSA decides to arrive for an inspection.

Unannounced inspections are probably better, but I acknowledge the level of compliance Mr. Carroll outlined in his statement.

Did MII view and approve all the protocols with regard to the Covid policies that had gone out to contractors? Were MII members available to public health teams for scrutiny?

Mr. Philip Carroll

Would the Deputy mind repeating the final question?

Were the MII companies, the operators themselves, available to public health teams for scrutiny?

Mr. Philip Carroll

In all cases, in the early stages there was a degree of contact between the HSE at local rather than national level, as distinct from the wider HSE protocols I referenced in my opening statement that were published on 15 May. There was a degree of consultation at local level between the HSE and all of the plant management. At no point was there any divergence of view as to the efficacy at that stage of the protocols and their implementation at plant level.

I thank Mr. Carroll for those answers. How does he think the meat plants are capable of responding to a potential second wave of Covid? Does he think the current guidelines are sufficient, and will they remain in place?

Mr. Philip Carroll

The guidelines have developed to some degree in respect of the 15 May guidelines published by the HSE. Essentially, all of the things that were happening at meat plant level prior to 15 May were encapsulated in those HSE guidelines and some additional points were added. In the past few days we received an updated set of guidelines without any significant additional actions required on the part of meat plants. I do not want to presume that everything is perfect. Things have reached a point of perfection in the sense that we have reached the stage where we have no active cases, having had a significant peak in cases in the final two weeks of April and the first week of May. There was a significant spike in cases in meat plants and that spike corresponded pretty much with the spike in cases that occurred in that period in the general community. I am not confident enough to say that everything is perfectly correct, but what we will do is remain vigilant every single day. We will adhere to all of the advice that we get from the HSE, the HSA and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and completely comply with all of those requirements.

I thank the witnesses for attending. I have a number of brief questions that require brief responses. How many cases of Covid-19 have there been in meat plants across the State?

Mr. Philip Carroll

I can only account in respect of the plants MII represents, which is most of the plants but not all of them.

Mr. Philip Carroll

There have been approximately 1,100 positive cases since the commencement of the Covid outbreak.

Mr. Carroll mentioned that there are no active cases, which we all hope is the case. Is the reduction in instances in meat plants down to what is happening in broader society or is it down to the actions implemented by his organisation's members?

Mr. Philip Carroll

It is difficult to assess this. I mentioned in my statement that we have seen active outbreaks and clusters in plants in other jurisdictions. It is difficult to pinpoint a single reason we have managed to reduce the number of cases. As I said earlier, when the spike hit there was a connection with what was happening more widely in the community. That said, the measures have proven, over a period of time, to be pretty robust. One point I would make is that when there was some disagreement or uncertainty about the relevance of asymptomatic cases, we found that, having had a spike of cases as a result of mass testing at particular sites, a substantial number of those positive cases came from people who were completely asymptomatic.

How often is mass testing taking place?

Mr. Philip Carroll

As far as I am aware, we have mass testing in some five sites, overall. These are five sites where there were significant clusters. In other words, before the mass testing-----

Is the process of mass testing ongoing across all Meat Industry Ireland member plants as we speak?

Mr. Philip Carroll

Can the Deputy ask the question again?

Is periodic mass testing taking place in Meat Industry Ireland members' sites as we speak?

Mr. Philip Carroll


Maybe that would be an idea. We had a discussion earlier on, and there seems to be some confusion here. Could the witnesses indicate what proportion of the staff and workers at MII members' meat plants are migrants?

Mr. Philip Carroll

I will ask Mr. Joe Ryan to answer that question.

Mr. Joe Ryan

I do not know the Deputy's definition of migrants but, based on our own analysis of the nationality of our workforce, 30% of the 15,000 people in the industry are of Irish nationality. Another 50% are from the EU, excluding Ireland. Therefore, 80% of our workforce are EU citizens, with the balance being people who came into Ireland legitimately on employment permits over the past-----

Mr. Ryan has stated that 30% are Irish.

Mr. Joe Ryan

That is correct.

We can take it that 70% are migrants. If I was working in Poland, I would not consider myself to be a-----

Mr. Joe Ryan

Would the Deputy consider himself to be an EU citizen, though? The claim is being made that the industry is based solely on migrant labour but, regarding EU citizens who are here, as we heard from speakers this morning, ten or 15 years with children in college, are they still classed as migrants? We do not believe so.

Okay. Well, 30%------

Mr. Joe Ryan

If I might finish the point in relation to-----

Some 30% of the Meat Industry Ireland members' workforce are Irish nationals. What proportion of management across Meat Industry Ireland members' sites are Irish nationals?

Mr. Joe Ryan

I do not have an exact figure on that but I will say that we have a wide range of roles across the sector. There are production roles, including operatives, knife men, supervisors, health and safety people, food production and technical roles, and other roles such as logistics, finance, engineering and IT. One thing we see - and we have done analysis on this in recent years in the context of employment permits - is that the majority of supervisors and management in sites have come from production roles and people have developed and progressed their careers up through the-----

Does Mr. Ryan have an opinion as to why the number of people from outside Ireland employed in his sector is so high?

Mr. Joe Ryan

I apologise to the Deputy but I did not catch what he said.

Why does he think the figure is so high? That is not to say they are not welcome. I am sure they are all valuable members of the industry's workforce. Proportionally, however, an incredibly high number of people from outside this country are working in the sector. Why does Mr. Ryan believe that is the case?

Mr. Joe Ryan

The Deputy is right that these workers are incredibly important to us and valued by us. I do not know that we are unique in the breakdown of our workers by nationality when one looks across the various multinational companies. They are, as I said, very valued. As to why we have that breakdown, I do not know. Like other sectors, in recent years as the economy moved to full employment we had to seek additional workers from outside Ireland. Thankfully, through free movement within the EU, many of our workers come from other member states.

Does Mr. Ryan believe it has anything to do with the wage levels being paid by his members?

Mr. Joe Ryan

I do not think so. In reality when an economy is at full employment we are going to become dependent on people coming in from outside the country.

Does Mr. Ryan not believe that wage levels have anything to do with that?

Mr. Joe Ryan

When there is full employment naturally one has to look outside the country for additional workers.

There are sectors that do not have the same proportion of migrant workers and in most instances those sectors pay higher wages.

SIPTU has indicated that if there is a second wave that it will emerge from a meat plant. Does Meat Industry Ireland agree with that?

Mr. Cormac Healy

The question was raised earlier around the threat of a second wave. What we have now are extremely comprehensive and robust measures in place and the priority is that they are maintained. We have said consistently that it is not a case of getting to the point where, thankfully, we do not have active cases, but it is a case of maintaining that, with no room for complacency. I do not agree with the view expressed by SIPTU that it is likely to come from a meat plant. We have to remain vigilant and to maintain the measures-----

I apologise for interrupting Mr. Healy but how many times has Meat Industry Ireland met with SIPTU or other trade unions to discuss workers' concerns regarding the practises or otherwise within meat plants?

Mr. Cormac Healy

We have not met it. We have been in correspondence with SIPTU but throughout the years Meat Industry Ireland's role has been as a representative organisation dealing with policy and technical issues. We have not been involved in the area of the business concerned with labour, employment conditions and so on. It has not been part of out role. We have been in communication with SIPTU, however.

I apologise again but in the context of a global pandemic that was having a very real and considerable and disproportionate impact on this sector, did SIPTU not seek a meeting with Meat Industry Ireland? What rationale could there possibly be for MII not to meet with representatives of workers who were publicly raising concerns regarding the practices in the sector?

Mr. Cormac Healy

We had communications from SIPTU and we responded to that and indicated that labour and employment issues are primarily dealt with by individual members, but we remained open to discussing it. The priority though was the engagement at local level on the one hand, and there was engagement with each company and its staff and union representatives where that was appropriate. The priority was also engagement with the authorities at local level, which was with the HSE, and at national level once the national outbreak control team was formed. That is where our principal contact was throughout this episode.

I want to make two points. First, can I take it from Mr. Healy's response that Meat Industry Ireland is open to meeting with SIPTU and other trade union representative? If it is, I encourage it to do that as a matter of priority. Second, returning to the HSA inspections, a phenomenal revelation today was that there was not a single unannounced inspection by the HSA. We know it was late in carrying out those inspections.

A recent headline on reads: "HSA to begin 200-farm inspection ‘blitz’ from Monday". That shows the double standards that apply on these matters. The HSA was incredibly slow to carry out inspections of meat factories and has not actually carried out any unannounced inspections to date. I ask the witnesses and this committee to liaise with the HSA to get clarification as to why that is the case because it is not acceptable.

Mr. Cormac Healy

As Mr. Carroll outlined earlier, the announcement of inspections was a decision by the HSA. We do not have any issue with announced or unannounced inspections. It is also important to note that throughout this we have been working closely with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at local and national level. There is a permanent presence and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as inspectors-----

Veterinary inspectors.

Mr. Cormac Healy

-----across a wide range of Departments, has engaged with the HSA to assist in those inspections.

As a follow-up, we have received a submission from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this matter. It states "The Department’s responsibility at slaughterhouses and processing plants is primarily to ensure that such establishments operate in compliance with food hygiene legislation and focus on ... ante and post-mortem inspection service ... sampling for BSE ...". Based on what the Department has indicated, it appears consumers rely on the Department's inspection and while its inspectors are hugely important for consumer protection, they are far less so from the point of view of workplace safety and workers' protection.

I thank the witnesses for their presentation on the meat sector and industry. This may have been answered already but I did not pick it up. I understand there are approximately 50 meat processing plants across the country. Of those 50 units, how many were identified as having employees with Covid?

Mr. Cormac Healy

The HSE defines a cluster as two or more cases and based on that definition, I think the figure is 22 or 23.

There are quite a number of plants where Covid was not identified. What did those plants do differently compared with the 22 where it was identified? What measures did they take at an early stage? If the virus did not come into those plants they obviously had safety measures in place at an earlier stage.

Mr. Cormac Healy

To be precise, there were even fewer plants with significant numbers of infections. All our plants had measures in place from early to mid-March, and as Mr. Carroll mentioned, there was a ramping up and development of the protocol. Those measures were being put in place across sites and it is not clear exactly why there were infections in certain plants. The reality, which is being experienced internationally, is that in some sites or facilities there have been high numbers and low or no numbers in others. The reason for that is not fully clear.

Would it not be wise for the industry to look at this issue and see what was done differently in the plants that did not have any cases compared with the plants that did? This is in case we have a second surge, though I hope that will not happen. Is now not the time to look at this issue?

Mr. Cormac Healy

The Deputy is right. The verification process has been touched on and there has been ongoing verification both from the Department and the HSA around the measures in place. Work is also going on in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, which sits on the national outbreak control team, to retrospectively look at some of the factors and get a greater understanding as to why things happened.

Many commentators have expressed fears about second surges in countries. If there is anything that can help with regard to a second surge, particularly as the economy opens up and restrictions are lifted, that work is being done with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and-----

I want to move on. Information was conveyed by the HSE to the employers about employees who had tested positive before the employees themselves were advised. Why was there pressure put on by the industry for this to happen?

Mr. Philip Carroll

Would the Deputy mind repeating his last sentence?

My understanding is that pressure was put on by the employers for the information to be conveyed to them prior to it being conveyed to the employees.

Mr. Philip Carroll

No, that is not the case. No pressure was put on by employers for the information to be conveyed to them before it went to the staff.

When it became available to the employers would it not have been appropriate for the employers, following through on people's rights, to state that the employees should be advised before them?

Mr. Philip Carroll

If the rights of individuals were undermined it was not by pressure applied by meat processors. The circumstances of this were discussed, perhaps at an Oireachtas committee meeting at some stage, when it was suggested that there was an issue with regard to GDPR and the rights of individuals to have information on their own health first. We completely concur with this and do not see any issue with it. We would not dispute it in any shape or form.

One must have made the arrangement with the HSE for the information to be conveyed to the employers first.

Mr. Philip Carroll

In certain instances, people who had tested positive and were working in plants may not have been contactable. The decisions were taken in the context that if individuals who had tested positive were working in an occupational environment, the risk of spread was greater if those individuals were not excluded from that workforce.

Mr. Carroll is confirming the pressure was not put on-----

Mr. Philip Carroll

Absolutely not

-----the HSE at any stage-----

Mr. Philip Carroll


-----but he does accept that once the employers got the information they should have conveyed back to the HSE that it should be advising the employees first.

Mr. Philip Carroll

The understanding was that they were either being advised at the same time or initially, because it was a case of the employee's health rather than-----

I want to move on to the issue of permits for people coming from abroad. My understanding is that it is the employer who arranges the permit and works with the person coming in. This morning, it was suggested that there should be sectoral permits rather than a person being tied to the particular employer who is involved in getting the permit. Would the industry be happy with having the current system reviewed? This morning, it was outlined to us that workers find they have fewer rights because if they are no longer employed by a particular company they have no rights.

Mr. Joe Ryan

I am happy to answer that question. Our knowledge of the employment permits legislation is in so far as how much we have interacted with it in recent years. We have engaged with the employment permit legislation and the Department with responsibility for business to seek a quota of permits to recruit workers. If there are to be changes to the employment permit legislation, it is probably for another forum to discuss. There are many other sectors that interact with the employment permit system that would wish to feed into it.

I am asking whether the meat sector would have an objection to changes being made to allow a person to get a sectoral permit as opposed to a permit tied to one employer.

Mr. Joe Ryan

My understanding of the permit legislation at present is that after their first year on an employment permit, workers are eligible to move to other employers in the sector.

Does Mr. Ryan accept, though, that some people who are tied to particular employers are slow to raise issues of concern with them, whether about health and safety or any other issue, because they are worried that if they want to transfer afterwards, it could cause concern for them?

Mr. Joe Ryan

If there are changes to the employment permit legislation that cover the situation the Deputy speaks of, of course we will deal with those with the new legislation.

I wish to talk about the asymptomatic people identified in today's presentation. Is it possible that people felt they did not have the same level of supports there? I am talking about the people who come in from abroad. Mr. Carroll identified many people as asymptomatic. Because people do not have a huge amount of supports if they go on sick leave, is it possible that people may have been afraid to come forward or take days off when they really should have taken days off? Does Mr. Carroll feel that enough support mechanisms were in place, and are in place even to this day, for workers coming into work and taking medication in order to give a different idea as to how well they really are? Does Mr. Carroll think we need to do a lot more work on this?

Mr. Philip Carroll

I think the concept of asymptomatic cases is now recognised as real, that there are people who do not have symptoms, full stop. Therefore-----

There also may have been people who had symptoms but took whatever they felt was necessary in order to make sure no one was aware they had symptoms.

Mr. Philip Carroll

That may well be the case. I am not aware it is the case.

Does Mr. Carroll not agree, then, that this may be arising because people did not have enough supports?

Mr. Philip Carroll

Of course, there is an issue of personal responsibility in all situations with which we have all been asked to comply. In response to the Deputy's question, in such circumstances it was always made clear by plant management, as part of the protocols on self-isolation, what rights individuals who complied with the requirement to self-isolate had where they had symptoms.

Was that information given to them in the languages they were used to?

Mr. Philip Carroll

Yes, insofar as I am aware, it was given to them in a multitude of languages.

Not at the very early stage.

Mr. Philip Carroll

Probably at the early stages. If the Deputy had ever been to a meat plant, he would find health and safety rules in probably about ten or 15 different languages posted on all the walls wherever required. There is nothing new in dealing with multiple languages and providing information to staff in that context.

I have one quick follow-up question. Do the rights workers have in the event they are sick typically include sick pay as part of their contracts?

Mr. Cormac Healy

It has been suggested that language is a major barrier. As the chairman has said, once somebody comes in and is working in a plant, he or she first has to go through training etc.-----

No. My question was, do they have sick pay?

Mr. Cormac Healy

In some companies there is a sick pay scheme and in others there is not. That is common across the economy.

Within the meat industry, would Mr. Healy say the majority of its members or the majority of plants pay sick pay?

Mr. Cormac Healy

It is a matter for the individuals. Some of them have it and some of them do not. Equally, however, all the rights, and all the various Government measures in terms of the pandemic such as the payments and entitlements were all briefed in the languages-----

I will ask the same question a third time. Do the majority of Meat Industry Ireland's members and the majority of plants represented by Meat Industry Ireland pay sick pay?

Mr. Cormac Healy

Some of them have sick pay schemes and some of them do not.

That was the third time I asked the question and the third time Mr. Healy said that some do and some do not. I asked whether the majority do so but I will move on if he does not want to answer the question.

I thank the witnesses for their attendance.

I want to return to their rationale for not engaging with the unions which, frankly, I find incredible in the current climate. I want to point to Meat Industry Ireland's opening statement where it refers to the reason high-level clusters occurred and states that there was uncertainty as to why large clusters occurred. Mr. Carroll stated this "is recognised as being a complex multifactorial problem with no clear and distinct conclusions". That, quite frankly, is a cop-out because Mr. Carroll answers later on in his statement that they have been able to keep plants relatively Covid-free by instigating, among other things, the work safety protocols which are quite rigorous. The driving force behind the work safety protocols is the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and senior union officials who work on a strategic level - Mr. Carroll seems to be offering himself up here as the strategic mind or brains behind this industry. Why would Meat Industry Ireland not then, as a simple matter of good faith, engage with the unit of civil society that has kept so many of its workers safe and healthy over the past few weeks?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I will take that question. First, I would say to the Deputy that there has been engagement by Meat Industry Ireland in those particular protocols the Deputy mentioned that were developed in conjunction with ICTU, the Construction Industry Federation and IBEC.

The meat sector-specific guidance was developed in conjunction with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the national outbreak control team. Further to correspondence from SIPTU, to which we responded, we indicated that while principally the matters of pay and conditions - because it had raised other issues - are dealt with not by us but by individual companies, we nevertheless were open to discussion.

Okay. Will Mr. Healy agree to meet SIPTU, for example - yes or no? Will Mr. Healy agree to the invitation it has extended?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I have written to SIPTU-----

Will Mr. Healy meet its representatives?

Mr. Cormac Healy

-----and indicated an openness.

Is that a "yes"? Will Mr. Healy meet them?

Mr. Cormac Healy


I thank Mr. Healy for confirming that.

Mr. Cormac Healy

We indicated that.

I will present how Meat Industry Ireland is being viewed. We have had no other industries in here like the meat industry over the last number of weeks. This is not our first session on the meat industry. It has been discussed in questions to the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There are huge questions about the industry which Meat Industry Ireland represents and many people out there see Meat Industry Ireland as the bad guys here. That is the reality of it. In order to tackle that, it would be a good step for Meat Industry Ireland to meet with SIPTU - I am glad to hear that Mr. Healy has indicated he will - but also organisations such as the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.

The first line of Meat Industry Ireland's submission states that its sector "accounted for almost €4 billion of food exports". That is a huge amount of money. It almost comes across like a boast. I am not sure it is meant to be. It comes across as though they are saying theirs is a huge industry and they bring in all this money. Many of us in this Chamber and throughout the country have massive concerns about how their workers are being treated and where that money is going because it does not seem to be going into the pockets of the skilled knifemen Meat Industry Ireland presents here which it had to go out and attract into the country. I am not sure Meat Industry Ireland has attracted them with big contracts and wages commensurate to theiir skills. There is a huge body of work that needs to be done by Mr. Carroll's organisation to win the trust of the Irish people in relation to how Meat Industry Ireland is treating its workers. I want to ask one final question. Is there any sense among Meat Industry Ireland when it is having internal meetings that it has let its workers down?

Mr. Philip Carroll

I find that extraordinary. First of all, the Deputy is conflating a number of issues here.

First of all, we have an industry that, as the Deputy says, produces and exports volumes of meat products of the order of €4 billion or thereabouts. We compete in an exceptionally difficult environment right across the globe. We meet all of the standards that are required in dealing with our workforce. We are subject to Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, inspections on all of the plants.

Regarding those inspections, there is also a discussion with representatives of unions, where they exist in plants, and worker representatives in other plants. It is similarly the case with the HSA. When it does an inspection in meat plants, its representatives also speak to workers and that is done independently of plant management.

In creating some sort of artificial divide in what he has said, the Deputy has not produced any evidence. He is suggesting things that are simply not the case. There may well be another forum in which the Deputy believes it would be necessary to look at these matters, and that is entirely an issue for him. However, conflating issues concerning employment contracts and other issues here is not a realistic approach to trying to establish precisely why we have had these large outbreaks. We have them, by the way, only in six or seven plants.

I am running out of time here.

Mr. Philip Carroll

Those outbreaks have been significant and far too many, and there is no question about that. At no point, however, was there any sense of there being a lapse in the responsibility we have for the care and protection of staff. It was quite the opposite. Having initiated about 60 different actions to protect staff and the environment in which they work, we set about that very early and very comprehensively.

I ask Deputy Smith to be brief, because we are way over time.

I will be brief. I am not trying to create any artificial divide. I am just trying to bridge the massive gap in information that exists between submissions from Mr. Carroll's side and those submissions we are getting from the MRCI. I thank the witnesses.

Deputy Carroll MacNeill has given Deputy Cairns five minutes of her time. I call Deputy Cairns, who has ten minutes.

I am relatively new to the House, so I am not sure if it is appropriate to state that I am a beef farmer.

I have discussed this with Deputy Cairns before. I am also a beef farmer and I do not think that is a conflict of interest for either of us. Inevitably, beef farmers have relatively few places to sell their product, other than to members of Meat Industry Ireland.

That is the situation. Mr. Carroll stated that he found the public opinion extraordinary, based on what Deputy Duncan Smith said here. The clustered outbreaks in his industry, however, are what has brought Mr. Carroll and his organisation before this committee. Before the pandemic, the large meat processing plants were most recently associated with-----

Mr. Philip Carroll

Excuse me, but we are finding it very difficult to hear Deputy Cairns.

I will sit forward. I was saying that Mr. Carroll stated that he found the opinion Deputy Duncan Smith gave extraordinary, but the clusters and outbreaks in Mr. Carroll's industry have brought him and his organisation before this committee today. Before the pandemic, large meat processing plants were most recently associated with protests by farmers. For me, and many others, these two things are intrinsically linked. They speak to how industrial-scale meat processing treats people, workers and small suppliers.

Farmers receive prices so low that they are forced to protest repeatedly to save their family farms, while workers, especially the most vulnerable, are left open to infection. Principles of fairness and equity seem to be lacking. It is not too much to expect that farmers get a fair price and that workers have safe working conditions. During the week, the German agriculture minister pointed out that low prices do not fit with sustainability. She linked low prices with pressures on animal welfare, working conditions in meat processing plants and farmers' incomes. It is obvious that there are clear parallels to be drawn. It is large-scale meat plants that are the issue. It is not migrant workers, farmers or small abattoirs, which do not seem to be having the same problems. It seems that the industrialisation of the sector and its practices has increased the vulnerabilities of many stakeholders.

Mr. Carroll's opening statement provided plenty of context, but was short on accepting any responsibility. What responsibility should the owners of Ireland's meat processing plants take for the mass outbreaks among their workers? What are Mr. Carroll's thoughts regarding a task force being established to review the sector? His opening statement mentioned the uncertainty regarding the exact reasons for the cluster of outbreaks in some meat plants. Media reports, submissions to the committee and statements from workers' representatives raise numerous issues, however. This is against the backdrop of farmers getting low prices, as I mentioned.

I will be seeking that a task force be established to examine the terms and conditions that workers have in this sector and to examine State funding. Will Mr. Carroll and his organisation support that? I have more questions to follow.

Mr. Philip Carroll

I am surprised Deputy Cairns is conflating issues that have emerged in the recent past in terms of relationships with farming organisations and returns in the market with a much more serious situation of the presence of Covid-19, in our environment and our communities, and, unfortunately, in meat plants.

On the issue around farmers' incomes and about the trading crisis, I agree with some of the points the Deputy made about the returns that come to the sector. They should be stronger for both processors and farmers, but we have been in a deep process since last September with the meat market task force in dealing with a range of issues that were identified as needing attention, including wider levels of transparency. We are going through that process now. We have had around five meetings of the meat market task force, including one two weeks ago, and we are moving through that process very well.

I would also point out, and I said it earlier, that we had a different market situation at the beginning of this crisis. We are nowhere near the end of that because we do not have the markets available to us currently that we would ordinarily have had were it not for Covid-19. We are in a difficult situation yet we are performing extremely well, at the European average in terms of prices, so I think I can leave that aside because it is being dealt with in another forum.

With regard to the point the Deputy made about large-scale plants, we do not have large-scale plants. We have 40 plants in this country for a small population of animals overall. They are not large industrial-scale plants, as the Deputy would like to describe them.

Will Mr. Carroll answer the questions? Will I ask them again?

Mr. Philip Carroll

I am sorry. I thought I was picking up on the points Deputy Cairns had raised. I am willing to finish out on the rest of them if she wishes.

I will go back to those questions quickly. What responsibility should owners of Ireland's meat processing plants take for the outbreaks? Will Mr.Carroll support the committee seeking a task force to examine the terms and conditions for workers in the sector?

Mr. Philip Carroll

I did not respond to the other two points Deputy Cairns made so I will respond to those now. In terms of the Covid-19 outbreak we have had a task force, the national outbreak control team, NOCT, with experts, virologists, epidemiologists and people who understand how clusters form and how one can mitigate those. We have engaged thoroughly, although not directly with the NOCT. At every single factory site where we have had significant clusters management has been deep in discussion and co-operation with the NOCT. That is what needs to be done, it is the right direction in which to go and we are happy with that. As far as a task force is concerned, I do not see the merit, but if that emerges from the committee's deliberations, we will look at that closely.

As far as responsibility for outbreaks is concerned, I have tried to indicate on a number of occasions, and we have put it clearly in our submission and in my opening statement, that we made clear right from the beginning - in fact, a number of weeks before the lockdown commenced and before the first positive Covid-19 case had taken place in Ireland - that we had developed a set of protocols that applied in every single establishment. There has been no perfect solution in any environment to preventing the spread of Covid-19. This came at us out of the blue, as it came at the rest of our community out of the blue. We, as a sector, would not have had the expertise to deal with that. The HSE produced its set of protocols on 15 May 2020, but two months before that we had a substantial set of protocols already in place. They were not expanded to any great degree on 15 May.

In other words, that suggests the things we had done were the proper measures to put in place.

Mr. Carroll spoke briefly on the meat industry's position on unannounced inspections but more on the HSA's response. This sector is now under greater scrutiny. Given the recommendation made here earlier today by Ms Edel McGinley, director of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, I hope MII would welcome measures that could increase transparency and address public concern. Does the delegation support unannounced labour and health and safety inspections, and not just veterinary inspections, by State authorities? If the inspectors cannot have immediate access to the factory, does the delegation believe a penalty should be imposed?

Mr. Cormac Healy

We have already said in public that we do not have an issue with unannounced HSA inspections. They were determined to be announced at this point in time. We cannot get away from the implication in some of what has been said that there has been no control, oversight or verification. It is important, and we should not ignore the fact, that right from the beginning of this process we have engaged with inspectors from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and veterinary authorities, both at national and local level. They have also verified the type of measures in place. We should not leave people with the impression that there has not been ongoing verification. We can focus on whether HSA inspections are announced or unannounced and, as I said, we are open to that.

I just needed clarification that MII would welcome unannounced inspections. I thank Mr. Healy. That is perfect. There are time constraints so I shall move on.

Workers have consistently told journalists that they are frightened to talk about conditions in the sector and have kept their anonymity in media reports for fear of retribution. What does that say about the industry? Does MII support workers speaking out about their situation? Does MII accept the testimony of workers who told various media outlets that some meat plants did not fully implement the HSE guidelines from the start of the Covid-19 crisis when they were alerted to it? Workers allege that even after they asked managers for PPE, they were not given protection. Does MII accept those statements?

Mr. Cormac Healy

Does the Deputy accept the statements of the agencies and authorities that have inspected and found that measures are in place? While I do not know the individuals or the plants they speak of, I do know that on a number of occasions both the national outbreak control team and the HSE, where it has been involved with plants at local level, expressed satisfaction and agreement with the level of co-operation and the measures that were in place in plants.

I accept that a lot of the measures are in place now. My question related to when the crisis-----

Mr. Cormac Healy

That is what I accept too, Deputy.

It has been stated that in all of the meat factories represented by MII, these measures are in place and being adhered to. I ask Mr. Healy to clarify how PPE is being issued to workers and paid for. It would be good to know how regularly workers are issued with fresh PPE.

Mr. Cormac Healy

It depends on the PPE. In a case of visors versus masks, the latter must be replaced daily or on a shift basis. Visors, which are a different type of PPE, are not replaced as frequently. The industry has provided staff with the necessary protective equipment. It has done this for some time and will continue to do it. The overall suite of measures that are in place in the industry now must be maintained. There cannot be any room for any stepping back from that. I have no fear that there will be any stepping back from it.

Is the PPE paid for by the individual meat plants?

Mr. Cormac Healy

As I understand it, absolutely, yes. It is important to understand that it is not just a question of PPE. A huge amount of investment has gone into various measures. People in many parts of life, including employers and business owners, have had to do this. Unfortunately, they will have to continue to do so until we reach the end of the pandemic. There has been investment in a huge number of areas, such as changing canteens and layouts, bringing in additional canteen capacity and acquiring temperature checking equipment. A wide range of measures of that nature have been invested in, and will continue to be invested in over the weeks and months ahead.

I thank Deputy Cairns. If there is time at the end I will invite speakers to come in again. I call Deputy Bríd Smith from Solidarity-People Before Profit.

I have to start by congratulating IBEC on its submission. It is not often we get to read such a fine work of fiction at these committee meetings. It really does read like a different world. The world that the industry representatives live in is a world where the meat industry did everything right, at the right time and in the right way. It is a world where there were no issues to do with health and safety at the plants and where there was a perfect community with happy workers and empathetic employers. That is something of a mystery to us because all the other evidence we have heard, including from MRCI, ICTU and SIPTU, the workers union, shows us that those workers inhabit a different kind of world.

On 1 May and 2 May, The Guardian, a reputable newspaper, did a series of articles on the outbreaks at Irish meat plants because it was quite stark. If the first case came to the attention of the meat plants on 17 March and the protocols were not imposed on meat plants until 19 May or 20 May, that gives a good six to eight weeks in which there was a spike in the outbreak of coronavirus in the meat plants. Up to 1,000 workers were infected. How do the industry representatives explain that? If everything was hunky-dory and done right there has to be some explanation. The representatives referred to the provision of masks and PPE, and social distancing. Yet, according to that newspaper report and what we hear from the horse's mouth, that is, from the migrant workers in the plants, they did not have PPE, there was no social distancing and they were not provided with gloves or masks. The industry representatives insist that was the case. Either it is fiction or the representatives are being totally defensive, like Lady Macbeth, of whom it was said "Methinks she doth protest too much". I think the latter is the case.

I assume IBEC believes in science. I assume IBEC employs people to research the industries it looks after. If so, can the witnesses tell me whether organisation has examined any of the science and research done across the world in respect of meat plants? Studies have been done by Johns Hopkins University and University of California, Davis as well as in the Netherlands and Germany. They are interesting but it is no mystery why meat plants are particularly susceptible. If IBEC had read those studies carried out by scientists they would understand clearly. Those familiar with the meat industry - I assume the meat industry representatives are - would know that low temperatures allow the virus to stay viable outside the body for longer, increasing the survival of the virus in the air. That increases the risk of infection in meat plants. Social and economic factors also apply. They are by nature exhausting, dangerous, labour-intensive jobs done primarily by underpaid migrant workers. Of necessity, many of them live in multigenerational homes or overcrowded housing environments. All of these create a perfect storm for the spread of the virus.

If the meat industry representatives have not read those studies, they must still be wondering why in hell this happened. They seem to think they did everything right, at the right time, all the time and everywhere, yet 1,000 workers across the industry became infected. Do the representatives ever ask themselves those questions and look for answers? It does not strike me that they are looking for answers. I believe they are trying to cover up. All the answers before the committee amount to denial, denial, denial instead of acknowledging that they had a problem, agreeing to look at where the problem came from and doing everything to address it; I am unsure whether they have done everything.

I have a couple of simple questions about what is being done. I understand that 20% of the workforce referred to earlier who come here on employment permits come in through agencies. Has MII spoken to those agencies about the accommodation in which those workers live? Has the organisation urged them, proposed to them, helped them or told them to do something to rectify the overcrowded multigenerational accommodation where they live? It is often in isolated rural areas. Can the MII representatives answer the question asked of them earlier? Do the majority of the 50 large-scale meat plants operate a sick pay scheme for these workers?

Mr. Philip Carroll

The Deputy accuses us of denial, denial, denial. I believe we have made it clear in our submission, again this afternoon in our statement and in response to comments-----

I am talking about the work of fiction.

Sorry, allow them to respond, please.

Mr. Philip Carroll

What we have attempted, at least, to make clear is that we do have a problem with the fact that we have had 1,100 positive cases of Covid-19 in plants.

That is not a badge of honour or something with which we could in any way be satisfied. We have made it clear that any case is one too many. We make no bones about the fact that we have sought perfection where none can exist. That is the case not only in meat plants, but in wider society and every other situation in which there have been big clusters. that is a problem. We understand that there are indications of certain factors that may influence spread. The Deputy mentioned low temperatures, cooling systems and so on. We have recently heard that aerosols could accelerate spread in closed environments but others, such as the WHO say that may not be the case. That is why we are engaged in looking at the factors that could contribute to the spread of the virus in plants. We are working towards carrying out research that would compare situations in which there are large clusters in plants and situations in which there are very few cases. This will try to identify the defining issues between one and the other. We are not saying that this has never happened to us; we are saying that it has happened and that we do not want it to happen again. We are willing to look at all of the factors that could have contributed to it. I will ask my colleague to talk about the issue of permits.

Mr. Joe Ryan

With regard to the Deputy's query on the employment permits scheme and agencies, I am not sure which agencies she is referring to. It is ultimately our members who make applications for employment permits and our members who employ the workers should the permits be granted. Under the scheme, employers are required to assist in the sourcing of accommodation for those workers who come in on employment permits. It is not mandatory that accommodation be availed of. Nobody is tied to that accommodation. Many do choose, after a certain period, to source their own accommodation with friends and colleagues.

We are nearly out of time but do the representatives want to avail of the opportunity to answer the Deputy's question about sick pay?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I did not mean to frustrate the Deputy but I said earlier-----

Some do and some do not.

Mr. Cormac Healy

I do not know what the overall percentages are across the industry. Some provide sick pay and some do not. I accept that.

I believe members are asking because a lack of sick pay would incentivise workers to take paracetamol given they are on low pay and, if they are not entitled to sick pay, desperate to get to work. It was suggested in a previous session that workers may take paracetamol to lower their temperature because they are in such a precarious position that they feel they have no alternative but to do so if they are to earn money, which is why they migrated to Ireland in the first place. That is the reason I asked the question.

With respect, I would also expect an employers' representative organisation whose members operate 50 large meats plants to know that information. If I asked a trade union, it would know who had sick pay and who did not. I am absolutely shocked that MII does not know how many of its members have such a scheme.

I welcome the contributors. Apropos of the previous conversations, I have sympathy for the people involved on all sides, including the farmers who are trying to get a price for their product and the processors who are competing internationally. I worked in the meat processing industry for five years so I have a good idea of some the challenges, not least those relating to employees.

I refer to some of the points that have come up. With regard to compliance and contact tracing, it has been said that 90% of contacts of positive cases in the meat industry have been traced whereas the figure is 70% in the general community.

Will the witnesses outline why they believe 90% is the figure? Why is it so skewed so high in comparison to the community figure?

Mr. Cormac Healy

The HSE provided the full details on this, as it has full oversight of the matter. Of cases in the meat industry, the HSE stated there was 100% contact tracing within meat plants and 90% beyond that, which is high. This relates to a number of Deputies' questions. The use of contact logs was one of the early actions. It was within the broader advice that comprehensive contact logs be kept.

Where there were developing issues in a plant, local HSE teams were involved, there was immediate and direct engagement with the site and all of the information in question was sought and delivered. We are grateful for the work that was done at local level by the HSE. A significant effort was made to contain situations. The contact logs were handed to the HSE. I do not know any more beyond that. The comprehensive contact logs were at the core of the contact tracing.

I thank Mr. Healy. We have heard that approximately 20% of the national workforce comes from outside the EU. I do not know whether EU workers are subject to agency contracts, although some might find their way to meat processors via agencies. This matter was raised during our earlier debate. It appears that those on agency contracts are on particularly low wages. In my experience of the industry, a large bonus element is built in to try to shore up productivity every week. In light of a question asked by another Deputy, has the MII considered the matter of agency contracts and is there scope to determine what percentage agencies are taking off the top of the pay of workers who have been contracted to the industry?

Mr. Cormac Healy

Workers taken on through agencies may have been an aspect of the sector in the past, but they are certainly not now. If there is any agency work, it is a very low percentage of overall employment within the meat sector. It is an extremely small amount. There is direct labour now. For permitted workers, direct applications must be submitted by the employers. Hiring through agencies may have been an aspect of the past, but it is certainly not the situation in the industry now. It may be a feature in other countries, as mentioned.

It has been stated that this sector is operating at minimum wage. It is important to point out that is not the case. The minimum wage is not the prevailing situation across the industry. It accounts for a proportion, particularly at commencement, but wage rates progress upwards. Depending on skill levels and time in the job, many people have progressed well beyond that level. Stating that the minimum wage is the prevailing pay rate in the industry is incorrect.

Mr. Healy spoke about permits and stated that plants had no input into them because they were basically set up by the Department. Would the industry support a change in a permit's status that would allow a worker to move more quickly, for example, after three months or some other duration under a year? This would allow the industry to target for recruitment workers with permits in other sectors, such as the hospitality sector.

Mr. Cormac Healy

It is something that has to be considered. The rules as set out allow the person who has been taken on under a permit to move employment after a year. One of the points that should be considered is that many of the economy's individual sectors avail of employees with employment permits. They are looking to recruit people with some experience, background or specialty in their respective areas. It might not always be the case that an employer could get someone from another sector. For example, we have worked with the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation on defining some roles. There is a strict quota around those roles because a particular type of person is being sought.

However, that is a matter for a different forum. It is something that can be looked at. There are those complicating issues as well, or sector-specific issues, that might not lend themselves to recruiting from a different sector.

At the start of the session the witnesses were asked about agencies. The first speaker said he did not know what agencies we were referring to, and now Mr. Healy has said there are very few agency workers. Some 30% of the workforce are Irish. Another 50% are from the EU and when added to the Irish that gives us 80%, and 20% of workers are migrants. There were 1,100 outbreaks in the meat sector. How many of those 1,100 cases related to migrants?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I do not know. I do not have a breakdown of the figures in those categories.

Mr. Healy should know because it is his job to know. The witnesses have come in with their statistics, and we heard statistics earlier from Ms Edel McGinley that completely contradict every single thing the representatives of Meat Industry Ireland have said here today. The witnesses have stonewalled and gone around in circles.

I am from a farming background myself and now I am in the construction sector. I have seen cases myself where migrant workers in meat factories were living ten to a house. When five came in from their shift, the other five left. They were sleeping on floors. Not only that, they were sharing the same footwear they wore in the factory to try to make sure that the footwear would last because they could not afford to replace it. That is because they were brought in here by agencies. The witnesses do not have the facts for me today on the agencies. Neither do they have the facts and figures on how many of the 1,100 cases of Covid-19 in meat plants were among non-EU migrants, EU migrants or Irish workers. It is their job to have the figures here today for me. I do not accept what they said about previous misconduct meted out to farmers by the industry.

In fairness, we are talking about meat plant workers, although I accept that the farming issue is important.

I understand, but it is a process and I am disgusted with the way farmers were treated. I am also disgusted with the way a lot of the employees in the meat sector are being treated. It is the job of the witnesses to know about the agencies and how many of the workers are on contracts. It is their job to know whether they have a safe place to live and if they are coming back into a safe environment with the proper PPE in place. We also got reports that some factories told some workers that it was their responsibility to provide their own PPE. There are a lot of questions to be answered. I have listened to everyone who has spoken today. The witnesses from MII have gone around in circles. They have not answered one question properly. They just kicked it down the road. They need to find out the facts about how the meat industry is run, where the employees are coming from, how many are with agencies, and how many are living in a safe environment in order that they can work in a safe workplace. I want the witnesses to contact me and other members with the proper statistics relating to the meat industry and in response to the questions I have asked. I want the information in writing. The witnesses can respond to me now but I want a formal response in writing with a breakdown of the 1,100 cases and I want to know how many workers are still employed by agencies.

Is that of the 1,100 who became ill or more broadly?

More broadly. I want a full breakdown.

Could I ask the witnesses to provide that in writing? I appreciate that they have said they do not have that information today but would they provide it to us perhaps within ten working days? Is that an unreasonable request?

Mr. Philip Carroll

The first thing and the main thing that has concerned us from the beginning is the fact of having cases at all. We have been concerned about the people who work in plants, wherever they come from, be it Ireland, Europe or other countries. We have been concerned only with the fact of them having the virus and how we mitigate that.

A sweeping statement has been made by the Deputy that we have stonewalled and have not answered any questions here. That is completely unfair because have answered about 75 questions and we have answered them all within the knowledge that we have of the circumstances of Covid outbreaks in meat plants. The Deputy has thrown out a few issues we could not possibly have anticipated when he talks about particular circumstances - I suspect he refers to a particular circumstance - where he has discovered multiple people living in a house. Interestingly enough, if he was listening this morning the MRCI spoke of research they had done. That research was around a tiny, almost infinitesimal, proportion of workers in the industry but they made a point on housing that the Deputy might want to hear - they had no evidence from those they researched that people live with coworkers. That was generally the position they adopted. We have made it very clear that workers choose where they want to live. We are mandated by the permit system to ensure that accommodation is available but there is no requirement that workers have to live in that accommodation.

Mr. Carroll has made that very clear and he has kindly agreed to provide the answers Deputy O'Donoghue has sought.

Mr. Philip Carroll

I have not. I did not answer that question yet.

Nor could Mr. Carroll be expected to have every answer here today.

Mr. Philip Carroll

We will discuss it with our members. We do not have that information available to us but we will strive to get that for the committee.

I wish to ask a specific question before coming to Deputy Farrell, who has sat here very patiently throughout. Does MII or its members involve themselves in the organisation of accommodation for their workers?

Mr. Joe Ryan

Accommodation is not part of the general employment arrangements in the sector. However, under the employment permits scheme, where we have a limited quota of permits, there is a requirement to assist in the sourcing of accommodation. That is subsequently verified by WRC inspections. No one is tied to the accommodation and many choose to move on.

I would like to answer the questions on agencies as well because there has been discussion on that in respect of the employment permits system. With regard to the applications companies make for employment permits, which relate to a small percentage of the overall workforce, a detailed application goes in with supporting documentation, including a direct employment contract with the company that makes the application. Before any application is approved, that contract is reviewed as part of the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation review process. Thereafter, it is verified through on-site inspections by the WRC. Agencies are not involved in that process whatsoever.

Is payment for that accommodation deducted at source from workers?

Mr. Joe Ryan

At any one time, the number or workers for whom accommodation is sourced is very small because people do-----

Is payment for the accommodation deducted at source?

Mr. Joe Ryan

A smaller subset of that is those where accommodation may be deducted but-----

It is sometimes done, but Mr. Ryan says it is----

Mr. Joe Ryan

-----with the full approval of the worker, as would any other deductions for sports and social and other such activities.

Deductions for accommodation are unusual in most sectors.

Mr. Joe Ryan

As I said, it is in a very small number of cases.

I thank Mr. Ryan. I wish to give the floor to Deputy Mairéad Farrell, who has been more than patient.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus leis na finnéithe as teacht os comhair an choiste seo.

No one can claim that they did not know about this issue because it was raised by ICTU and the unions in early March. The Government was well aware of it. SIPTU wrote to the then Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, on 3 April to warn him of their concerns in this sector if health and safety was not correctly implemented. It contacted the HSA on 28 April to ask for inspections. My Sinn Féin colleague, Deputy Stanley, also wrote to the then Minister on 30 April to highlight concerns. Given that all of these sections knew of the potential dangers to those who work in the meat processing factories, I find it baffling that this was allowed to happen both on a Government level and on a HSA level. Is it MII's view that if these warnings had been taken seriously by all agencies at the beginning, this would have limited the number of cases?

Mr. Cormac Healy

The point we made earlier is that nobody had all of the answers or even has all of the answers about Covid-19. We put before the committee points and facts showing that the members we work with put measures in place. We should not forget the reality that when one looks across the whole industry, one will see that in some plants there were no cases, in some plants there were very few cases and in a limited number of plants there were quite a few cases. Questions have rightly been asked as to what more can be learned or focused on from those cases, but substantial measures were put in place from the very beginning.

I am aware that as the Deputy says, SIPTU wrote to the then Minister in April because it provided the letter to some of the companies. It related to supports for the broader overall meat and dairy sector and acknowledged that work was being done at that time in the industry. Both employees and employers were doing everything possible to comply with the measures but it has been a graduation also with the measures. Thankfully we find ourselves today in a situation where we have no active cases at the moment. We have a robust set of measures that will continue and will be maintained. That is still an important point - we can go back and back but that is where we are today. We have robust measures that will be continued in the weeks and months ahead.

Mr. Healy said that there were substantial measures from early on. Mr. Carroll told Deputy Bríd Smith that it was not perfect. We need to realise that this was disastrous for the people who worked there and were affected by this. We are talking about 1,100 people being infected with Covid-19, a disease that has caused a global pandemic. To say that substantial measures were taken from early on and that it was not perfect does not cover the gravity of the situation for the people who work in this sector. I want to look at what is happening now because we are concerned about a potential second wave and all those things. I would like clarity on whether all factories are now taking workers' temperatures. How many times per day are they being checked? How many workers, if any, are being sent home on a daily basis due to temperature issues?

Mr. Cormac Healy

By and large temperature checking is now a feature of the industry. I do not think every single plant has temperature checking but the vast majority do. It is one measure in a suite. Temperature checking at the entry point alone would not do anything for the industry overall but it is a measure. I think it is part of the guidance from the HSE now as part of a suite of recommended measures.

The vast majority of meat processing facilities with which we are familiar are doing temperature checks. I believe temperature checking is done in the morning on entry into the facility and there have been incidences over the last weeks where people have been recommended not to come in, to go home and isolate and contact the health services. The cut-off point as set out by the HSE is 37.5°C. That is picking up some cases but it is not the only measure being used. Simply checking someone's temperature on the way in and having nothing else inside the plant would not suffice. It is about all the measures across the board. Some have said temperature checking gives a false sense of security because when people pass it they think they are okay. It has to include all the other facilities and measures throughout the plant. That is one of the overall set of measures in place at the moment.

Temperature checking is a measure that has been implemented around the world. I will go back to something previous speakers have raised. I was talking to people who work in these factories before coming to this meeting and there is a high level of concern due to the lack of sick leave. While it may be provided in certain factories, other factories do not provide sick leave. If someone is in a precarious situation and is on a low income it is just not financially realistic to be taking sick days when one is unsure if one is even sick. There is a concern that Panadol is being taken by some people before going into work. Is that something the witnesses have come across or raised with factories?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I have heard the issue around Panadol and so on mentioned in the media. The main point is that it is not in a plant's interest for anybody to come in who has symptoms or is feeling sick. The main mitigating measure is to keep this virus outside the workplace. We have seen clearly in some situations that it can spread if it does get in. The main aim is to keep it out and therefore it is in no employer or management's interest to have anybody coming into work who is in any way feeling symptoms. That has to be the way we move forward on this. Keeping it out of any plant is first and foremost the prime measure of controlling the spread of this disease.

I think we would all agree on that. This shows the importance of people having paid sick leave and I hope MII's members and all workplaces take note of that.

Another matter that was brought to my attention was the filling out of questionnaires before going into work to show that one is not sick. One report showed there were ten key languages spoken by people whose English was not that good. Are these questionnaires available in different languages? Of course, there is also the issue of low literacy within those languages as well.

The data breach was outrageous. Can the witnesses name any other industry where that happened?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I am not aware of other instances but, as the chairman said earlier, it was not our industry. It was not something management had pursued or looked for and they were not the ones who issued the information. I cannot answer for other sectors.

I will hand over to my colleague on the questionnaire but I will make one point on it. While the questionnaire is about the questions and checking with the individual in the morning, it is also about awareness.

That was one of the recommendations. It is about constant awareness and focusing on it. Inasmuch as the questionnaires are about assessing whether the employee has symptoms, it is also to reinforce in the back of people's minds that it is still an issue and they still have to work with the procedures once they go into the site.

Mr. Joe Ryan

To add to that, the questionnaires are available in all relevant languages. The reality of day-to-day operations in plants prior to Covid was that they already had the structures and capability to communicate with staff in all of the relevant languages on site. They do so on a normal day-to-day basis with regard to food safety and health and safety. This includes the Covid-19 pre-screening questionnaires.

I will definitely welcome what the witnesses come back with on the agencies because there seems to be a huge amount of confusion. Do the agencies have a role in health and safety? They have a huge role in bringing people to these workplaces and getting them the jobs. Do they put the employees in touch with local GPs?

Mr. Joe Ryan

The Deputy is right that there is a lot of confusion about agencies and a claim has been made that all those who come in through the employment permit scheme do so through agencies but they do not. They are directly employed by the companies and agencies have no role whatsoever in this aspect of employment. With regard to the wider agency workers from Europe, the numbers are minimal and in the vast majority of cases, staff are employed directly by companies. It follows through from the employment permit scheme that any company that avails of such permits is audited, and rightly so, by the Workplace Relations Commission. When it is on site visiting companies, it is to verify compliance with employment permit legislation, as well as aspects of regular employment law.

I also look forward to receiving the information requested by Deputy O'Donoghue and I thank the witnesses for agreeing to provide it. Earlier, Mr. Ryan correctly pointed out that after a year, workers on a work permit can move to another area of employment. Does he accept that where they can move is very circumscribed? It has to be an area where there is a skills shortage, the employees have to satisfy all of the tests, it costs €1,000 for a new permit, there is an issue about who will pay the €1,000 and it takes three or four months. If these are migrants from third countries not in the European Union, there may be a great reluctance to move or even seek to move.

Mr. Joe Ryan

With regard to people transferring to other companies or sectors after a certain period, the Chairman is right to point out that, as we have spoken about earlier, they are eligible under the current employment permit system to transfer employers after-----

If they can wait four months.

Mr. Joe Ryan

The Chairman mentioned the fee of €1,000 for an application. In all cases, this is paid by employers who are looking to recruit individuals. With regard to potential changes to the employment permit set-up, as we have indicated this is a matter for a different forum and the experts in that area but any changes made should apply across the board. There are challenges, as my colleague said earlier, with regard to the skill sets in certain sectors.

There are. Migrant Rights Centre Ireland would dispute that the €1,000 is paid by the employer in all circumstances. The evidence of its representatives earlier today was the opposite of that.

Have Meat Industry Ireland's members availed of the temporary wage subsidy scheme since it is introduction? If so, do the witnesses have any idea of the number of employees employed under the temporary wage subsidy scheme since its introduction to date?

Mr. Cormac Healy

Certainly a proportion of processors, not across the board and it probably depended on various sectors, were in the temporary wage subsidy scheme.

I know that just from speaking to them. Individual companies participated in the temporary wage support scheme. Certainly, a number of companies in the processing sector did because they met the requirements and, as the chairman said earlier, one of the biggest issues, and in the beef sector it probably had the greatest impact because of its reliance on food services, was the overnight close-down of the food service sector and that market channel, which accounts for 30% of the beef exported from Ireland. That was gone overnight, effectively, as the virus swept across Europe and country after country brought in lockdown. That remains the case as far as food services are concerned. It was one of the biggest factors in production. Questions were asked earlier about production levels. On the beef side, production levels fell quite significantly in April and into early May. They have been recovering since, thankfully, but in April and into May there was certainly a significant reduction in throughput and processing activity on the beef side, principally because of the lack of that food service market channel, which accounted for 30% of output.

Mr. Healy talked about a 30% reduction in some instances. What proportion of the workforce in the meat plants would he say were employed under the temporary wage subsidy scheme?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I do not know. It is not a figure I have-----

Perhaps it is a figure on which Mr. Healy could consult with his members and which he could provide to the committee, again within ten working days or, if that is an unreasonable period, perhaps even 20. We are heading into the summer recess. Very little happens in this House during August, unlike perhaps in the business community. Perhaps Mr. Healy could get the figure?

Mr. Cormac Healy

I will try to do that. As I said, it was individual companies that applied for that.

I have to put it to Mr. Healy that notwithstanding that-----

Mr. Cormac Healy

The figures will be published in time anyway, so yes, I can try to assist on that.

Kill figures published by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine in any given week this year were no lower than 5% lower than the same time last year.

Mr. Cormac Healy

Sorry, Chairman. Is that production?

These are the kill figures produced by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. In week 23 the figure was 72,000 this year as opposed to 76,000 last year. The following week it was 76,000 this year as opposed to 80,000 last year. In another week it was 79,000 this year as opposed to 83,000 last year. The fall-off in kill is relatively low compared with last year. I accept a different type of animal might have been killed. It might be less geared towards a premium market. However, the industry was still killing substantial numbers of cattle while the State was perhaps paying large sums of money under the temporary Covid wage subsidy scheme. I would be very interested in the figures Mr. Healy might be able to provide to us in this regard.

Mr. Cormac Healy

I do not know which figures the Chairman is referring to but-----

They are from the website of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Mr. Cormac Healy

-----the weekly national cattle-----

Yes, the kill figures.

Mr. Cormac Healy

-----slaughtering figures, as reported by the Department in early March probably would have been in the region of 35,000 to 70,000 head per week across the country. Those figures dropped rapidly and, I think, reached approximately 25,000 head per week for quite a number of weeks before starting to increase again. I am not sure which figures the Chairman has, but those are the Department's weekly cattle slaughtering figures.

I may have misread them, but they are the figures I was looking at. I may have been looking at a cumulative figure but I do not think the drop-off was as dramatic as one might have expected. There was a beef intervention scheme ongoing as well. Was that used by the Irish sector?

Mr. Cormac Healy

The Chairman is right that there was a beef private storage scheme. No, I think there was an application for perhaps 20 tonnes. It was a scheme of 25,000 tonnes announced by the European Commission but we had made the point throughout that the scheme would not work and was not suitable. We are going into other areas now, but the scheme was structured such that almost the entire carcass needed to be put into it, whereas there was probably an outlet for some of the cuts from the animal into retail or whatever else. However, the scheme required everything to be put into it.

It was also at aid rates that were not significant because once one goes in there, one freezes it down and it devalues. For that reason, it was not really picked up across Europe. Actually, I saw today that overall measure has been closed by the European Commission. I am happy to come back on those figures if there is any misunderstanding.

No, I can give them to Mr. Healy. The cumulative beef kill, including the week commencing 29 June 2020, is 906,174 and last year's figure, including the week commencing 1 July 2019, is 939,100. That is a reduction but it is a 5% reduction.

Mr. Cormac Healy

Yes, accepted, that is cumulative and I will happily go through those figures. From mid-April to mid-May, or perhaps early April to mid-May, one saw a rapid reduction in cattle numbers processed in the country. Generally, the weekly figure is 30,000 or 35,000. It would have been at levels of 35,000 or 37,000 and fell to 25,000 for quite a number of weeks. I am sure those weekly figures will show up there. They are as published, as the Chairman says, by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. There was a significant fall-off.

They have already been accounted for. Anyway, we can park that. Deputies O'Donoghue and Shanahan both have brief questions to ask.

To make it formal, I propose that the witnesses provide the following information in the format I seek. I want a breakdown of the 1,100 cases that broke out. I want it done on the basis of the 30% of Irish, 50% of EU and 20% of migrant.

Of the cases, the Deputy wants to know how many were Irish, how many were EU nationals and how many were third country nationals.

I also want a breakdown throughout the country where the pockets or outbreaks were. There are only 50 outlets and I want a map to show where the outbreaks were.

Lastly, I also want a breakdown on the number of those cases who were able to avail of the Covid payment on the same basis - Irish, EU nationals and migrants - because I believe that many of the migrants may be on self-employed plans which might not be covered in this country.

The Deputy refers to the temporary wage subsidy scheme.

On the temporary wage subsidy scheme, I want to know how many of them were able to do so, in the percentages, as I have given. I would like to have that seconded.

Are the representatives of Meat Industry Ireland in a position to provide that? They have already agreed kindly to provide the information with regard to the unfortunate people who contracted Covid-19, whether they were of Irish nationality, non-Irish but EU nationality, or third country nationality. Is it possible to receive a breakdown from its members on whether the wage subsidy scheme was paid in respect of Irish nationals, non-Irish EU nationals and third country nationals? Is that something that could be provided? This is about the State's response. It would be useful to know what exactly the State temporary wage subsidy scheme is being used to subsidise.

Mr. Philip Carroll

Is the Chairman putting that to me?

I am, if Mr. Carroll wishes to answer that.

Mr. Philip Carroll

We have been asked for a lot of information.

I appreciate that.

Mr. Philip Carroll

As I said in an earlier intervention, we never looked at the issue in the specifics. We were more concerned with individuals contracting Covid in plants. However, we have been asked for the information. We will examine whether there is an availability of that information without commitment to giving it at this stage, because I simply do not know whether we have that information available to us.

There is one last point that I wish to make. Does Deputy Shanahan have another point?

Obviously, we have had a wide-ranging discussion. In terms of what the meat industry wanted to come in and speak about and what it has been asked about, we have digressed. In terms of the employment, the three main areas that have come up are the issues of the agencies, the permits and the sick pay.

The sick pay issue is an employee welfare issue and I hope it will be possible for MII to come back to us on that matter. I am interested in one other point and that is the future. Regarding the national outbreak control team, there is a protocol to engage in the event of a further outbreak or additional clusters in meat factories. Are the witnesses and their organisation happy that they are on top of that protocol and that if an outbreak were to occur tomorrow that the meat industry could get it nailed down within 24 or 48 hours?

Mr. Philip Carroll

We are very satisfied that is the case. I want to put on the record before we finish that we are grateful for the engagement of all the State agencies. I refer to the HSE, in particular, regarding the establishment of the national outbreak control group. That was an important development and it was of great assistance to the companies, particularly those that had larger-scale outbreaks.

We will continue to work with those groups. Can anybody be certain in any walk of life, however, of being completely on top of any further outbreak that might occur? I do not think so. As far as we are concerned, though, we are far more confident in our capability, the resources available to us now and in all the measures we have taken. We now have a better understanding of the problems we face and we are much strengthened in the artillery we have available to us in defending the position we want to defend - that of having zero cases in future.

I thank Mr. Carroll and what he said is noted and understood. Turning to one other issue, Mr. Healy agreed that MII would meet with SIPTU in response to the line of questioning from Deputy Duncan Smith. Equally and correctly, Mr. Healy pointed out that MII is a representative body of several different firms. It seems, however, that several reports, including one from the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions, to which SIPTU is affiliated, on outbreaks of Covid-19 in several countries, certainly not by any stretch limited to Ireland, refer to access for trade unions to sites in Ireland as being extremely challenging. Ms McGinley of Migrant Rights Centre Ireland spoke about workers being afraid to be seen to be joining trade unions, talking to trade unions or talking to the MRCI or anybody about their rights. While the MII might be prepared to talk to trade unions, will its members be willing to allow trade unions into their workplaces?

Mr. Cormac Healy

Trade union involvement in the meat industry has existed for many years. Contrary to that point, the point we had made to SIPTU was that MII as an organisation and representative body, in respect of the areas we have worked on, has not been and is not involved in employment and labour matters and that those issues are best dealt with at local level. I know, however, that where there is union involvement in plants and companies that they have been engaged and working with management. One of the Deputies referred to a letter from one of the unions to the Minister. There have been letters in more recent times in support of measures that have been in place. Our members have engagement with unions at local level and that was the point I was making to SIPTU at the time. I refer to that being the main focus of attention.

Mr. Healy and MII would not agree with the general line that access to sites for trade unions is extremely challenging. Mr. Healy would disagree with that point.

Mr. Cormac Healy

Yes, and I do not know where that fits in all of this either. I do not agree with that point because, as I stated, there has been union involvement in the meat industry for many years. The extent of that involvement may, however, vary over time, as it does across the economy.

An independent trade union, primarily based in the south of the country, made a similar submission. From reading its submission, it would seem that union is of the view, and it may of course be wrong and Mr. Healy and MII are perfectly entitled to dispute this, that trade union membership and activism is not something welcomed on the floors of premises owned by members of MII. Again, Mr. Healy is welcome to dispute that suggestion.

Mr. Cormac Healy

I absolutely dispute that suggestion.

The point is that in terms of the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response and the industry's response to it, the focus is primarily on ensuring we get to the situation we are now where there are zero cases and we maintain that. While we are moving onto other areas, but that is the position of members and what they have worked on and engaged in.

I do not wish to stray from our terms of reference, but the central accusation here today is that the terms and conditions around sick pay and working conditions for workers, in particular migrant workers, are such that required them to work in dangerous circumstances which resulted in them contracting Covid-19. That is what we are investigating so that is how this whole issue of trade union membership links to the issue of Covid-19 response. It is not as separate and divorced as might appear in the first instance.

Mr. Philip Carroll

Everybody has said right across the board, and I am talking about the experts, that Covid-19 is an insidious and indiscriminate virus. It does not discriminate between people who are on modest levels of pay and people who are on high levels of pay. It does not discriminate across nationalities or across borders. To suggest, for example, that there are issues around health and safety in plants when health and safety is inspected in the normal course, without announcement in advance, by a State authority needs to be refuted because it is simply not the case.

What needs to be refuted? I am anxious to-----

Mr. Philip Carroll

The fact that suggestions are being made - you said it yourself, Chairman - about the standard of health and safety in plants. The standard of health and safety in plants is regulated by the Health and Safety Authority, HSA, a State body, independent of the plants and on a regular basis.

I invited Mr. Carroll to respond to that and I thank him for doing so. Did the witnesses say the accommodation workers live in is inspected by the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC? Obviously, workplace environments, etc., and the terms and conditions under which people work can be inspected, but did one of you say that the accommodation is inspected by the WRC?

Mr. Joe Ryan

I will answer that, Chairman. I did not say that. I said in the context of the employment permit system one of the requirements is that assistance is provided in sourcing accommodation. That accommodation is not mandatory, it does have to be availed of and people often move on, but it is part of the requirements of the permit system that assistance is given in sourcing it. It is that element that is inspected by the WRC, to the best of my knowledge.

I thank the witnesses very much for answering all of the many questions that were put to them here today. I adjourn the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response until next Tuesday morning. I thank the three witnesses for coming in on a Friday afternoon and answering so many questions, and also for undertaking to answer more questions in the coming two weeks.

The committee adjourned at 4.40 p.m. until 9 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 July 2020.