EHRC to investigate meat processing industry

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have announced a formal enquiry into the meat processing industry in England and Wales. It may prove to be the new body’s biggest enquiry to date, the meat processing industry employs some 40,000 workers across Britain, engaged in processing and packing meat for sale in supermarkets and retailers across the British Isles. Under section 16 of the Equality Act the Commission has the power under to conduct an Inquiry, report on its findings and to make recommendations

Evidence obtained by the Commission suggests the meat processing sector is characterised by low pay, and has become reliant on agency and migrant workers. On average, agency staff receive lower normal and overtime pay than their permanent colleagues and have different holiday and sick pay entitlements.

Due to their agency or temporary status, many of them lack the legal protection afforded to permanent workers. The Commission will be examining the differentials in treatment between agency and permanent workers, UK and migrant workers, and the knock-on effect of this for community relations. The body will also consider wider implications of changes to the status of agency or temporary workers.

Welcoming the Inquiry, Jack Dromey, deputy general secretary of Unite, said:

"Even the boardrooms of even the most powerful supermarkets in the land, who have done so much to shape the modern-day food industry, will feel the glare of this Inquiry. Supermarkets can no longer have an ethical logo on their letterhead and then abuse their market power to drive down costs along their supply chain, creating a two-tier labour market that discriminates and divides.

"This is a watershed moment for workers. The Inquiry will also be welcomed by communities who are fed up with employment practices that divide neighbours and feed instability and hostility.'

"This root and branch Inquiry will at last shine a light on this sector, from the lowly provider of labour right up to the mighty supermarket, and is certain to expose industrial practices that belong to the dark ages. We welcome the opportunity to present our extensive evidence of abuse to the Commission."

Trevor Phillips, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

‘We know that there are good examples of companies and employment agencies who treat these workers fairly, but there are concerns about inequality in recruitment and employment practices in other companies and we want to ensure that fair treatment is the norm across the sector rather than the exception.’

The Inquiry will gather evidence from individuals, meat processing companies, agency labour providers and other organisations over the next six months.  The Commission will also be commissioning independent research.

At the end of the Inquiry the Commission will report its findings and make recommendations on how to improve the terms and conditions for certain migrant and agency workers in the meat processing sector where there is found to be poor practice.


posted by

Asif Yusuf



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