Factory manager has made protected disclosure on alleged food safety breaches, court hears

By Ann O’Loughlin

A meat factory production manager who claims he was unfairly suspended by his employer has made a protected disclosure about alleged food safety breaches to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, the High Court has heard.

Alvaro Carvalho works for Carrolls Cuisine Unlimited Company, based in Tullamore, Co Offaly which processes and packages beef, chicken, pork, ham, and turkey products for sale in Ireland and abroad.

In his High Court proceedings, Mr Carvalho, of Harbour Drive, Tullamore, Offaly wants various orders and declarations, including an injunction restraining his employer continuing with any disciplinary process against him into alleged misconduct.

He also seeks orders restraining the company demoting or victimising him and requiring it deal with grievances he has raised.

In opposing the application, the company "strenuously denies" all allegations it has breached food safety standards and says it takes its obligations in that regards "very seriously." It has been in contact with the FSAI and the Department of Agriculture about the allegations.

Mr Carvalho has worked in the industry for 20 years and began work with Carrolls Cuisine in 2013. He was suspended last October allegedly for having a lack of respect and empathy for fellow employees.

In a sworn statement, he said there is "no substance" to those allegations, he was not given a chance to deal with them and the suspension was a way to force him to resign.

Following his suspension, he says a senior manager told him there was one way to stop this and that was for him to make an offer and he would get an excellent reference.

The company earlier this year began to expand production at the plant and the pressure to increase production "got out of control" last September when senior management instructed staff to increase production to "an inordinate degree", he said.

This placed an "intolerable burden" on staff at the plant and, in order to meet targets, "food safety standards were blatantly ignored and normal cleaning and hygiene protocols were compromised", he said.

He said he was unhappy with this pressure to increase production and was unwilling to be a party to these dangerous practices and resisted them. He said he believes he was targeted by senior management as he had become "an obstacle to their business ambitions. "

Following his suspension investigation, which he says he was denied fair procedures, was carried out in November which found the allegations against him did not merit any further investigation at this stage.

Mr Carvalho said he was upset to read comments by the investigator that inter personal issues involving Mr Carvalho at the work place would be best dealt with by counselling and mediation between the parties.

The report also said it appeared Mr Carvalho had shouted at colleagues acted in an aggressive manner towards him.

He said those findings were damaging to him, and in his proceedings seeks to have them quashed.

In late November he made a disclosure to FSAI because concerns he had raised had not been dealt with by management.

In early December his suspension was lifted but on his return to work he said "drastic changes" were imposed on him without his consent including that his shifts were changed from eight hours to 12 hours in length, he was moved to a smaller office, and that he was demoted.

He also claims that his job was advertised by the defendant.

This he says was done to humiliate him and undermine him because of his health and safety protest. He has been off work for some weeks and is on holiday leave.

In a sworn statement opposing the injunction application the company’s Managing Director Kieran Carolan said the application is misconceived, and there was no basis for the injunctions sought.

He also denied any breaches of food safety standards.

He said Mr Carvalho is not subject to any disciplinary process and there are no adverse findings on his personnel record. He denied that any work changes had been imposed on Mr Carvalho following his return to work.

There had been no changes to his terms and conditions, but there are proposals to change production structures at the plant.

Mr Carolan said Mr Carvalho did not raise any issues about food safety or hygiene with senior management prior to his suspension.

He said when the company eventually got details of the complaints it made contact with the relevant veterinary officials at the Dept of Agriculture and with the FSAI.

He said that food safety standards at the plant are regularly audited and checked by bodies including the Dept of Agriculture and by its customers.

The plant was audited by the British Retail Consortium in November.

Mr Carolan said the consortium had verbally confirmed that following the audit the plant will continue to hold the A grade status awarded by the body.

Mr Carolan said that while the business is expanding and current employs 230 people it was unfair and incorrect by Mr Carvalho to say an intolerable burden has been placed on him.

He rejects allegations management instructed staff to increase production to levels where food safety standards were compromised .

Mr Carvalho was not targeted by senior management, he said.

The application for an injunction, pending the outcome of the full hearing of Mr Carvalho’s action, was heard by Ms Justice Eileen Creedon who has reserved judgment.


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