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At the start of the year, Salaha Rasool had a job paying €27,000 a year, albeit for long hours, and a room in a shared house provided by his work.
By mid-February though, he had lost everything.
Why depends on who you ask. Rasool says he was let go because, although still on probation and at risk of losing his livelihood, he reported the meat plant where he worked to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI).
Rasool didn’t think the plant was doing what it needed to do, to be able to label meat halal, and had to say something, he says. “I don’t compromise on my religion.”
His employer says Rasool working there just didn’t work out, as happens sometimes, but that they can’t say more because of GDPR laws.
It may come down to the Workplace Relations Commission to decide whether Rasool’s dismissal was fair, but his experience does show how dependent some immigrant workers are on their employers – not just for their job, but also for a place to stay and their right to work and live in Ireland.
Halal or Not?
Between either 27 September 2021 (according to his contract) or 5 October 2021 (according to his termination letter) and 15 February 2022, Rasool worked at a meat plant in Co. Meath.
Twice a week, his primary responsibility was to ensure that all halal procedures were followed, says his contract. Issuing “halal certificates” is listed as another task.
But Rasool says he didn’t know the ins and outs of the halal process, and that chasing his employer for training and certification to kickstart that, led to promises but nothing more.
Rasool says he used to be a meat packer in the previous plant where he worked and didn’t work in slaughter. As a Muslim, he says, he knew how halal slaughter worked in theory but was ill-prepared to do it at the Oldcastle slaughterhouse and had said that during his job interview.
“I needed training. I know how to do it, but I need training and a certificate, it’s a whole process,” said Rasool, recently, sitting at Fegan’s 1924 café near Smithfield.
He noticed, however, that some meat products were still packed and labelled as halal, he says.
In early January, he reached out to Islamic leaders in Dublin, like Umar Al-Qadri, chief imam at the Islamic Centre in Blanchardstown, showing him photos of halal-labelled boxes.
On 13 January, a Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) worker got in touch with Rasool about the boxes, asking him to find out if there were more packs of beef labelled halal in the cold room.
They asked him to be careful, though: “Do not put yourself in a position that may cost you your job,” one text from the FSAI worker says. They then put Rasool in touch with a colleague to investigate the case further.
Rasool worked with them, too. He said his religion was too important for him to keep quiet. “I don’t want somebody to eat wrong things which they didn’t know because that would be cheating.”
The inspector visited the plant on 10 February. “Just finishing up here soon. No Halal products should be labelled after today, if there will be let me know. Thanks for everything,” says a message from an FSAI inspector at the close of his visit.
Five days later, Rasool lost his job due to unsuitability, his termination letter says.
Frank Twomey, a director of Traditional Meat Company, said he couldn’t discuss the details of someone’s employment because of GDPR laws but that relationships sometimes break down.
“Once in a blue moon, a relationship doesn’t work. I’m obviously disappointed,” said Twomey.
“I suppose if somebody works here and doesn’t work out, if the relationship doesn’t work out, we say on the grounds of suitability, that’s a standard thing,” said Twomey, during a phone call that he asked not to be recorded.
Twomey said the company doesn’t label products as halal that aren’t. The company has six people who can come to the factory to do halal slaughter if they need halal meat for a customer, he says.
“If we don’t have anyone to do halal slaughter for us, we just don’t bother producing it until we get somebody,” said Twomey.
On top of those on-call workers, he hired Rasool to do slaughter in line with halal standards so he would have somebody to cover for them if they were off on breaks, he said.
A spokesperson for the Food Safety Authority of Ireland said: “The Food Safety Authority of Ireland is precluded from disclosing the outcome of official controls on food businesses.”
Twomey says he doesn’t know why the FSAI worker told Rasool in a text that meat shouldn’t be labelled as halal going forward.
Its inspectors always make recommendations after plant visits, he says, telling them what they need to tweak or change in their processes. Twomey didn’t say exactly what recommendations the FSAI made after their 10 February visit.
Rasool didn’t just lose his job on 15 February.
He also lost his spot in the house where he had been living among other meat plant workers, he says. It was a simple room with a double-bed and wicker furniture not far from the factory, rented from his boss for less than €300 a month, he says.
Not only that, but – as a migrant from Pakistan – Rasool relies on his employer for the permits that allow him to work.
Meat plant workers get a general employment permit that tethers them to one employer for 12 months.
Changing jobs after that means starting from scratch, finding a new job andsponsoring employer until they finish five years of working on a general permit. People have six months to find a new job and sponsor or leave the country if they can’t.
Rasool had worked for two years for another meat factory in Kildare, so he needed a new permit when he switched to Traditional Meat Company and would need another from any new employer.
Rasool says he has a BA in business but settled for meat plant jobs because no one else was willing to sponsor a work permit for him.
“It’s so difficult,” he says. “I tried to find office administration jobs but I couldn’t. Most companies ask you about your visa before anything.”
Rasool says he had opted to leave his old meat plant job because of the promise of getting away from the slaughterhouse environment and working in an office some days.
“I thought it’s a very good opportunity for me,” said Rasool. He regretted the decision, he says.
Completing “administrative duties as required in the competent and expedite fashion” is mentioned in Rasool’s contract, which offers him €10.85 per hour for 48 hours a week, coming out at roughly €27,000 per year before tax.
He is now looking for a new job and an employer willing to get a new work permit, he says. He wants to be a chef now, he says.
But Rassol says he also plans to file a case for unfair dismissal against Traditional Meat at the Workplace Relations Commission.
Barry Crushell, an employment solicitor at the law firm Crushell & Co., says that workers who lose their jobs after less than a year can’t usually file unfair dismissal claims.
“This is to give employers the option of reviewing the suitability of new employees for their organisation, making sure they’re the right fit,” says Crushell.
Rasool had a six-month probationary period in his contract, during which he could be let go if management decided he was unsuitable for the role. That’s what Twomey said happened in this case.
Rasool says he thinks he was let go because he raised concerns with the FSAI about the halal slaughter process from the get-go.
He says after three or four weeks of employment when he first started pushing for halal training and certification, he felt that his new boss wasn’t happy.
Crushell says the law makes an exception in cases where someone lost their job because they reported wrongdoing or violation of rules to authorities under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014.
“But again, in these cases, the employer can argue that the employee was terminated for other reasons wholly unconnected with the raising of an issue to authorities,” Crushell says.
He says workers from outside the European Economic Area who are dependent on their employers to stay in the country are especially vulnerable if they change jobs and find themselves in need of a new sponsor and permit.
“I would argue that additional protection should be ordinarily afforded to them. Some workers are open to a greater level of exploitation because they would be in a very vulnerable position after the termination of their employment,” said Crushell.
Rasool says he should’ve kept quiet but he just couldn’t. “We’re immigrants. Whatever they want, they can do with us.