Almost 300 staff at the Rosderra Meats bacon factory in Roscrea will be tested this week in an attempt to ensure all cases of Covid-19 can be detected and contact traced.
Testing of 286 staff at the Parkmore bacon factory will be carried out across a three day testing system planned from Wednesday to Friday of this week at the Cré House coronavirus testing facility operated by the Health Service Executive (HSE) on the Templemore Road in Roscrea.
Those being tested are workers who produced a negative result during the blanket testing program carried out for all staff at the plant at the end of last month, while on Tuesday the HSE, Health and Safety Authority (HAS) and Department of Agriculture carried out a joint inspection of the plant.
The Parkmore bacon factory, which was built in the 1980s and is one of the town's landmark industrial plants, usually slaughters over 3,000 animals every week and accounts for over a third of Ireland's national weekly bacon production kill.
Speaking to this newspaper, Deputy Michael Lowry, who raised the issue of the Roscrea bacon factory in the Dáil last week, said the new testing program aims to “capture those employees who may have been incubating the virus in or around the time of the last test on April 24”.
“There is no indication of a further outbreak. This is a precautionary measure in ensuring that the significant progress made in controlling the virus is maintained”, Deputy Lowry said, adding that as a result of implementing strict protocols and procedures there has been no confirmed positive case at the Plant since May 1.
“In consultation with Management at Rosderra it has been agreed that for the purpose of protecting and reassuring the workforce and local community a further Covid test will be carried out this week,” Deputy Lowry said.
In a special Dáil sitting on Thursday relating to the ongoing Covid-19 situation in meat plants across the country, Deputy Lowry said he was contacted by a number of workers at the Rosderra plant in Roscrea and by his local Councillor Shane Lee, regarding incidents of Covid 19 within the factory and the local community in Roscrea.
The issue had been raised by Laois/Offaly Sinn Fein TD, Brian Stanley in the Dáil a number of weeks before, who described the detection rate of positive cases as “staggering.”
Deputy Lowry said that “his primary objective was to protect the health and welfare of the workforce, but also to protect their jobs going forward and the plant's hard earned international reputation”.
“Conscious of these factors I deliberately didn’t make any public comment. I decided the best approach in the workers interest was to work with Management to ensure they got the full support of the State agencies in their efforts to curb the spread of the virus” he said.
“The current predicament of the workforce or future job security is not well served by blame games. Condemnation serves no useful purpose and does nothing to improve the position of the workforce and this is not a time to set management and workforce against each other. It is a time to work together to resist the common enemy Covid 19”, Deputy Lowry said.
“After discussions with Senior Management at the Plant to ascertain the extent of the problem, I contacted the Directors of the Company. I was advised that everything possible was being done to contain and control the spread of the virus. This included a wide range of precautionary measures which were put in place in accordance with guidelines and the company agreed to my suggestion to call in the HSE and conduct blanket testing”, Deputy Lowry said.
Deputy Lowry said the matter was causing “huge anxiety and fear in the workplace and in the community” and that its impact was “sapping energy and wreaking havoc with a hitherto busy and successful production line.”
“The Company wanted to halt the virus in its tracks. They were prepared to do whatever it took to bring it under control. They sought professional advice, followed best practice and implemented every recommendation. The HSE later confirmed that its personnel received total cooperation and had unrestricted access to the factory and were continuously monitoring the situation” Deputy Lowry said.
Staff have since returned to work on a gradual basis and are following the HSE protocol on self-isolation and the Roscrea plant is almost back to full operational capacity.
“Management and workers continue to be extremely vigilant with their protective measures for infection control”, Deputy Lowry said.
“The vast majority of workers understand the serious nature of the situation and the absolute necessity to comply with every precautionary measure. A minority, through carelessness or naivety, jeopardise their fellow workers and families by nonconforming actions. These people need to be educated to the fact that this virus is at its best dangerous and at its worst deadly,” he added.
Highlighting that the Rosderra plant in Roscrea employs 440 people, Deputy Lowry said it is “vital to the local economy and makes a huge financial contribution to a town struggling for survival”.
Because the Roscrea plant is operating to international best standards and has valuable export contracts to China, Japan, USA, Canada and Australia, Deputy Lowry said it is “very important for the Company to protect its hard earned international reputation”.
“I am on the side of keeping workers safe while also keeping their jobs safe. There will be a future after Covid 19. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure that Rosderra is part of that future” Deputy Lowry said.