Laid-off meat workers face financial struggle – but don't blame the farmers – Farming Independent

Lithuania-born Loneda Curma said she is “not surviving” financially at the moment after being laid off from her job at a pet food packaging plant due to the beef blockades.

The mother of one has worked for Epicom, in Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, which services C&D Foods, for eight years.

Like thousands of others, she does not know when she will be paid again after being told there was no work last Saturday.

She is one of the 3,000 Siptu members estimated to be out of work by the end of the week due to farmer blockades in a battle for better prices.

“It is madness,” she said. “People don’t know what to do and don’t know when they will get some pay. Somebody has their fight, but it’s not our fight or our goal. We all have families, we have houses and we have to pay the bills.

“What can we say, ‘Dear child, I can’t go to the shop with you because I have no money?’ Pay for meat processors is around €440 for a four-day week – or roughly €23,000 a year.”

She visited the dole office but does not know how long it will take to get a payment.

“I can’t actually survive at the moment,” she said. “I’ve no money and might have to borrow to pay rent. My husband works part-time. I don’t have a lot of choice. I hope this is not going to take long.”

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Although she feels it is unfair for workers to be dragged into the dispute, she is not angry at the farmers.

“I hope the farmers get what they want and we can go back to work,” she said.

Oliver Kelly, who works in sheep processing at Dawn Meats, in Ballyhaunis, for 30 years, feels workers are a “hidden” element in the dispute. He got a letter from management telling him he was laid off until further notice yesterday.

“We went down this morning and got letters telling us we’ll be laid off and they didn’t tell us when we’d be back,” he said.

He said staff in the abattoirs, loading, cleaning and canteen workers are among those without work.

“More or less everybody has been laid off.”

He said there was little work over the last two weeks but on Friday they were told there’d be nothing from Monday.

Like Ms Curma, he doesn’t resent the farmers. “Most of the lads would be from farming stock anyway and understand their plight,” he said. But he is worried about his job and might have to look for other work if it goes on beyond a month. He said many of his colleagues are young Eastern European couples who are renting.

“You would be worried if other factories are killing and you aren’t,” he said. “You’d be afraid of your markets disappearing. Management is just as confused as anyone else. They said it’s going to be decided at national level at the end of the day.”

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