BMPA responds to Unite’s claims of worker exploitation in UK meat plants
The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has hit out at a series of claims from Unite the Union about working conditions in British meat processing plants and the role of migrant workers.
Responding to the union’s claims that refrigerated meat processing factories are a risk factor for coronavirus transmission, BMPA’s chief executive, Nick Allen, said: “Meat processing is a skilful but physically demanding job and, contrary to Unite’s claims, conditions at BMPA members’ plants are far from ‘dire’.
“Our member companies work to strict hygiene and safety controls imposed by the Food Standards Authority, Public Health England and the Health and Safety Executive. While working temperatures are necessarily cold in parts of the factory, workers are given the protective clothing and equipment they need to keep them and the food they produce safe.
“These highly regulated working conditions apply equally to all staff from the skilled butchers in the boning and cutting halls to the support staff who keep the canteens and offices running; it’s one standard for everybody.”
The BMPA also stressed that since March, members have spent millions of pounds following Government guidance on how to make working conditions as safe as possible to allow food production to continue. Measures such as Perspex screens, staggered shifts, one-way systems, temperature testing and extra PPE have become standard.
It also stated that nature of all chilled food production, just like the nature of other key worker settings means that, even when all Government guidance is followed, risks cannot be completely eliminated and it is not practical to simply shut down all plants because of the strategic importance of maintaining the country’s food supply.
Unite also said that there is a link between outbreaks of Covid-19 at meat processing plants and the sector’s ‘widespread exploitation’ of migrant workers on low pay and insecure contracts. Unite also said there is a direct correlation between the treatment of migrant staff as ‘disposable assets’ and the spread of the disease in such environments.
Responding to the claims, BMPA’s chief executive, Nick Allen, said: “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.”