Abattoir workers carry out various tasks concerned with the slaughter of animals and preparation of carcasses. Those involved in killing the animals must be licensed.
Abattoir workers humanely kill animals, and prepare carcasses for sale and transportation to butchers and other buyers. There are three main areas of work. These are the unloading and moving of livestock, the slaughtering of animals, and the preparation of carcasses and handling of by-products, such as hide and intestines. Cattle, sheep and pigs are the animals most frequently slaughtered.
Animals are unloaded from lorries into lairages (pre-slaughter pens). From the lairage, animals are moved to the stunning pen. Here, the abattoir worker carries out the stunning using a pistol, gas or electric current. This process stops the animal from feeling pain. After stunning, the animal is killed immediately.
Blood is drained from the animal and the hide, skin or hair is removed. Internal organs and intestines are taken out. The carcass is then split and placed in a refrigerated chill room.
Finally, abattoir workers wash down and disinfect the pens, tools and equipment.
Personal Qualities and Skills
It is important that you are practical and able to work in a team. You cannot afford to be squeamish or sentimental about animals. You need to be reasonably fit and able to push and move heavy carcasses.
It is crucial that you know how to work safely with dangerous tools and equipment (knives and cutting plant). You must also follow food safety, hygiene and Industrial safety regulations.
The work is smelly, noisy and dirty at times. You must be willing to wear protective clothing, including head coverings, and you must be in good health without skin complaints or allergies. The wearing of Personal Protective Equipment is mandatory for all abattoir workers.
Pay and Opportunities
Pay scales vary in relation to experience and amount of in-house training necessary. Entrants should expect salaries starting at the current national minimum wage.
Entry Routes and Training
There are no formal entry requirements. However, FÁS and the Industry have developed the National Certificate for Abattoir Workers (Fetac Level 5). The Certificate Programme will become the basic qualification for all Abattoir workers and is essential if the worker wishes to become a supervisor or qualify as an Abattoir Manager. The trainee must be 17 or over for admission to the course. They must have numeracy and literacy skills and must be medically certified to work in the meat industry. This is an in-company course. Trainees who successfully complete the programme will receive a Nationals Skills Certificate.
All Abattoir workers involved in the actual killing of animals must be licensed for that operation. The licence must be renewed every year. You will not be granted a licence if you are under 18 years of age.
Training is usually on-the-job. You may attend part-time courses including off-the-job training in Food Safety and Hygiene or Health and Safety.
You do not need educational qualifications to enter this work. However, some employers may prefer you to have some educational Certification e.g. Junior Certificate.
Some employers require slaughterhouse workers to be aged 18 years or over in order to undertake certain duties. Many employers favour mature applicants, especially if they have relevant experience.
Contact your local FÁS office for Career Guidance, planning and support that will help you make informed decisions about the best career direction for you.