Union claims about “widespread exploitation” of UK meat plant workers are false and misleading
There has been a lot of publicity surrounding meat plants recently but some of what has been said doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of what is happening throughout most of the UK meat industry and may well be counterproductive in the struggle to understand and mitigate coronavirus risks.
Food producers have been working throughout the crisis and, like schools, supermarkets, public transport and other critical worker settings, they’ve had their share of coronavirus cases.
But, contrary to Unite the Union’s claims of a systemic problem, only 10 out of 1079 UK meat plants (less than 1%) have experienced instances of covid-19 over what’s already prevalent in the wider community.
Nor has there been any indication from Government that they see a particular problem with the meat industry. Infection rates mirror what’s happening elsewhere in the population.
Unite the Union has this week made sweeping claims of “low pay and insecure employment”, but their figures come from a survey they did of just 150 people who all worked at one of the 10 meat plants that have had a covid-19 outbreak.
The reality across the vast majority of the industry is quite different. BMPA’s Chief Executive, Nick Allen explains: “Our members, who process 80% of all the beef, lamb and pork in Britain, consistently experience a shortage of skilled labour which our new report “Labour in the Meat Industry” explains in detail.
“Far from offering insecure or zero-hours contracts (which are usually associated with an over-supply of labour), our members seek to hold on to their staff by offering them stable, permanent employment and a fair wage. Indeed, most overseas workers typically stay for two years or more”.
Initial results coming in from a survey this week of BMPA members are showing that, of the companies that have so far responded (who employ around 30,000 people – a third of the total workforce employed by BMPA members) the average number of staff on zero-hours contracts is less than 0.5%. Those that are employed on a more casual basis generally work outside of the main meat processing areas of the plants.