A new EFFAT report identifies the appalling working, employment and housing conditions affecting thousands of meat workers in many countries across Europe as the reasons why meat processing plants have become vectors for the spread of Covid-19.
Launched today, the EFFAT study outlines the effects of coronavirus on the meat sector in various countries across Europe, and provides an overview of the work arrangements and business practices pursued by meat companies to cut costs and escape employer liability. It paints a bleak picture of a sector in need of urgent and serious reform, while highlighting instances of good practice as evidence once again of the crucial role for collective bargaining in setting decent labour standards and ensuring fair competition.
Exploitative working conditions, overcrowded accommodation, up to 16 hour-working days, low pay, illegal wage deductions and job insecurity are just some of the injustices facing meat workers in Europe. The sector has also long depended to a large extent on migrant and cross-border workers – from inside the EU and from third countries – who are often the subject of unequal treatment and abuse.
Inevitably, Covid-19 has exacerbated many of these issues, leading over the last few weeks to numerous meat processing plants becoming vectors for the spread of the virus.
Overall, whether employed through abusive subcontracting practices, as temporary agency workers, posted workers or forced to accept (bogus) self-employed status, the working, housing and employment conditions for the vast proportion of meat workers are simply deplorable. This is both a cause and symptom of exploitation, social dumping and unfair competition across Europe.
EFFAT’s report calls for concrete and urgent actions, including binding measures, to be adopted both at national as well as EU level. It argues that EU initiatives are specifically needed to tackle social dumping and to put an end to the unfair competition that has destroyed thousands of jobs over recent years in the meat sector across several Member States. According to its findings, the critical situation faced by workers in the meat sector is clearly connected to areas in which the EU has competences, including labour mobility, the cross-border provision of services, labour migration, health and safety, international trade, business relations across the food chain, and company and labour law. The European Parliament resolution on European protection of cross-border and seasonal workers in the context of the COVID-19 crisis adopted on 19 June 2020 also reflects this analysis.
Commenting on the launch of the report, EFFAT General Secretary Kristjan Bragason said:
“Meat – and all agri-food – workers have shown astounding dedication to their jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic – too often risking their health due to lack of effective health protection measures in order to provide food for our table. We are in their debt.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed to a wider audience issues that EFFAT and its affiliates have been calling out to the EU Institutions and national governments over many years. In many ways it is sad that something as tragic as coronavirus had to happen to raise awareness of the systemic issues affecting the meat sector, such as the abusive sub-contracting which has so harmed numerous workers, especially in Germany.
“Let us hope that policymakers agree that there is no time to waste. We encourage the upcoming German presidency of the European Council to seize the moment and support EFFAT’s proposals for improving the conditions for workers and eradicating labour exploitation in the meat sector.”
Among its recommendations, the report:
– calls on the EU Commission to propose an ambitious legal instrument ensuring joint and several (chain) liability throughout the whole subcontracting chain. The initiative should also aim at boosting collective bargaining and combating wage dumping.
– calls on the EU Commission to support the adoption of measures proposed by the German Government to improve the situation in the meat sector.
– calls for an EU legally binding instrument guaranteeing decent housing for all cross-border, seasonal and migrant workers.
– calls for the accelerated empowerment of the European Labour Authority (ELA), in particular with respect to joint and concerted inspections and the fight against undeclared work.
– calls for immediate recognition by the Commission of Covid-19 as an occupational disease.
– calls for measures to address the excessive bargaining power of retailers and to mitigate the consequences of unfair cross-border European and international competition. In this respect, EFFAT calls on the EU Institutions to ensure its recommendations for the Farm to Fork Strategy are met.
– calls on Member States to ensure the prompt revision of Regulation 883/2004 and the urgent introduction of a European Social Security Number (ESSN) and Insurance Status Verifier.
– calls on all Member States to transpose and ensure compliance with the revised posting of workers Directive.
– calls for the EU initiative on due diligence to be binding and cover subcontracting and supply chains.
– calls for improvements to the current EU legal framework governing regular labour migration channels to ensure uniform rights at work and equal treatment.
– calls for the upcoming EU initiative on fair minimum wages to aim at promoting sectoral collective bargaining and to guarantee respect for workers’ and trade unions rights including site access and the right to organise and bargain collectively.
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