Equality Commission releases damning meat inquiry

An Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry into the treatment of migrant and agency workers in the meat and poultry processing sector has found alleged “widespread mistreatment” across the industry.

The EHRC inquiry examined the employment and recruitment practices in the sector to identify differences in pay and conditions between agency and temporary workers and employees with permanent or directly employed status.

The study highlighted workers alleging physical and verbal abuse and a lack of proper health and safety protection, with the treatment of pregnant workers a particular concern. Many workers were also said to have little knowledge of their rights and feared that raising concerns could lead to dismissal. While migrant workers were most affected, British agency workers also faced similar mistreatment, the EHRC claimed.

EHRC director general Neil Kinghan said: “The Commission’s inquiry reveals widespread and significant ill-treatment in the industry. We have heard stories of workers subjected to bullying, violence and being humiliated and degraded by being denied toilet breaks. Some workers feel they have little choice but to put up with these conditions out of economic necessity. Others lack the language skills to understand and assert their rights.”

More than eight out of ten of the 260 workers that gave evidence said that agency workers were treated worse than directly employed workers while seven out of ten workers said they thought they were treated badly in factories or by agencies because of their race or nationality.

However, the inquiry also found examples of good practice with firms treating permanent and agency workers of all nationalities with respect. The EHRC added these firms benefited as a result, by being able to attract and retain well motivated, loyal and increasingly skilled workers.

“We recognise that some retailers and processing firms have taken steps to operate in a way which improves the treatment of workers in the sector. However, there is still a lot that they and others could do. If the situation does not improve over the next twelve months, the Commission will consider using its regulatory powers to enforce change where necessary,” added Kinghan.

>>Unite and Asda join forces to end ‘discrimination’

>>Equality inquiry launched

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