Migrant Workers Project Calls on Government to Immediately Impose Sanctions on Employers Who Risk Spreading the Coronavirus by Refusing to Protect the Essential Workers Who Produce Our Food.
26 Mar 2020
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland (NIC ICTU) and the Community Intercultural Programme (CIP) are alarmed at reports from workers that some employers are deliberately ignoring the instructions from government and health agencies to protect lives and the NHS during this unparalleled coronavirus crisis.
Stephen Smith, spokesperson for CIP, said “We have been inundated with calls from fearful migrant workers in manufacturing and food processing stating that they are working on production lines shoulder to shoulder with colleagues without PPE, adequately staggered breaks and sanitising facilities. Added to this, employment agencies are recruiting large numbers of vulnerable BME and migrant workers for the food processing sector to meet the recent increase in production demands. They need the work to support their families, but their unsafe conditions, which fundamentally conflict with government’s instructions, are leaving them with an impossible dilemma.”
Kevin Doherty, spokesperson for NIC-ICTU, said “We fully support those workers, from both local and non-local background, who felt compelled to walk out of work yesterday due to serious health and safety concerns. Agri-food workers are essential workers. They work hard so that we have food to eat. They deserve to be safe at work.”
ICTU and CIP work with people from a migrant and local background through the Crossing Borders Breaking Boundaries (CBBB) project looking at exploitation, sectarianism, racism and discrimination in the labour market. The project is funded by the PEACE IV Programme.
The CBBB Project notes that the government is considering imposing sanctions on people breaking the instructions to stop the spread of COVID-19. The Project calls on government to immediately introduce similar and proportionate sanctions, including the threat of closure, on employers who compel their staff and agency staff to work in conditions which may put their lives and the lives of their families at risk.
Unannounced inspections of workplaces should also be introduced to ensure that employers are in compliance.
Kevin Doherty said further, “If Westminster fails to impose such deterrent sanctions on employers then the NI Executive and Assembly has the power to legislate on employment related matters and to enforce safe workplaces through its state agencies, such as the HSENI. Action must be taken now. Words are not enough. The spread of this virus can be stopped if the non-complying employers are made to join with the rest of us and put the health of their workers, the NHS and society first.”
The Project also supports the call from ICTU that the NI Executive needs to develop a process including themselves, unions and employers to address urgent issues thrown up by the crisis across the labour market, in a forum which can identify problems and agree solutions with the urgency required.
Notes to the Editor
- Crossing Borders Breaking Boundaries is a cross-border project looking at sectarianism, racism and discrimination in the labour market. The project is funded by the PEACE IV Programme and managed Special EU Programmes Body. Notes to Editor:
- The Special EU Programmes Body is a North/South Implementation Body sponsored by the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Ireland. It is responsible for managing two EU Structural Funds Programmes, PEACE IV and INTERREG VA which are designed to enhance cross-border co-operation, promote reconciliation and create a more peaceful and prosperous society.
- The Programmes operate within a clearly defined area including Northern Ireland, the Border Region of Ireland and in the case of INTERREG VA, Western Scotland.
- The PEACE IV Programme has a value of €270 million and aims to address the economic and social problems which result from the existence of borders.
- For more information on the SEUPB please visit www.seupb.eu