THOUSANDS OF WORKERS OUT SICK OR RESTRAINING MOBILITY DUE TO COVID-19, large retail chains and transportation firms are struggling this week.
Sharon Higgins, Director of Membership and Sectors at employer group Ibec, said the difficulties are serious in the manufacturing and distribution sectors.
“We’re seeing this everywhere right now,” she continued. It occurs across the country and in all economic sectors.
“Our call is, rather than enterprises having to create large contingency plans, that the close contact rules are examined again,” Ibec’s Higgins said today.
However, trade unions have advised caution due to the unpredictability of public health and the potential danger of Covid-19.
According to Irish Congress of Trade Unions General Secretary Patricia King, “Congress is acutely aware of the rising number of Covid-19 infections and the resulting need for tens of thousands of employees to self-isolate as close contacts.”
“Any change to close contact isolation rules must be guided by public health advice.”
In light of the increasing number of instances and the ongoing demand on our health systems and healthcare staff, she noted, “We must be cautious in our approach to any softening of these rules”.
“I assume a commercial driver has the luxury of being alone in the cab of their truck.”
Driver shortages and supply chain concerns have been “one challenge after another” for the sector, according to Flynn.
It is just another issue in a long list the sector has had to deal with today, he continued. So we just do our best”.
Concerned about the impact of labour shortages on businesses and supply chains, advocacy groups like Ibec have urged for a five-day limit on close contacts of confirmed cases.
The Government would ask Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan to ease the isolation regulations for fully vaccinated close contacts of confirmed cases of Covid-19, The Journal reported.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters today that the CMO and the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) will keep an eye on the isolation guidelines.
“They’re quite aware of the social implications of this, but the critical call here is not to respond too quickly,” he continued.
The situation differs from haulage company to haulage company, but the representative body’s members are doing their best.
The current wave of diseases is worsening skills shortages in both retail and transport, industry voices argue.
The latest wave of illnesses is affecting employees in supermarkets and “right throughout the retail sector,” said Jonathan Hogan, assistant general secretary of Mandate, which represents 40,000 workers in retail, restaurant, and administrative sectors.
Musgrave Group, which owns SuperValu and Centra, and Tesco Ireland notified The Journal this afternoon that the current wave of Covid-19 infections had reduced available personnel.
“SuperValu stores nationally are currently facing higher than average rates of staff shortages relating to Covid-19,” a representative for Musgrave told The Journal.
“Our stores are working hard to ensure we continue to deliver the finest service possible for our staff and customers.
“We appreciate everyone’s patience and support and apologise for any inconvenience.”
Tesco Ireland says there is no need to panic buy, as its supermarkets are well stocked with “enough stock to go around”.
“We’ve worked closely with our suppliers to help them and minimise disruption,” they stated.
“Our colleagues and customers’ safety is our number one priority,” the statement continued. We, like all industries, have noticed an upsurge in Covid-related absenteeism in recent days.
For Lidl Ireland, staffing shortages had not resulted in store closures or altered trade hours.
“Since April 2021, Lidl employees have been able to take advantage of free weekly antigen tests,” a spokesman stated.
“On the supply side, we have been working closely with our suppliers to minimise supply chain disruption and have had no issues with food availability.”
In addition, truckers are calling for a reassessment of the close contact rules.
According to Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association and owner of Drennan Transport, up to 10% of his workforce are presently out due to the close contact laws. According to Ger Hyland of Hyland Transport, between 20 and 30% of his drivers are out due to Covid or close relationships.