Supermarkets in Dispute over Employment in Meat Trade
1. “Tense negotiations between Asda, its meat suppliers, and Unite are taking place to decide how to introduce equal pay and conditions for plant workers,” reports The Grocer (27/03/10). About a month ago Asda and the union announced that the retailer would require its meat and poultry suppliers to stop paying migrant agency workers less than permanent staff for the same work.
2. “While the majority of Asda’s 29 meat suppliers were working to introduce the minimum standards, two in particular were resisting change,” said Unite’s director of organizing, Sharan Graham. A lot of controversy has arisen in the meat trade, with the threat hovering that the retailer had to pay agency and permanent staff the same, it would use only agency staff, who are paid less. Graham asserted that the cost of changing practices in the Asda meat supply chain would be £2.4m; it was currently discussing who should bear these costs. Noting that the small extra cost would cause a “minimal” rise in price – probably no more than the cost of one bogof promotion - Asda expects the change to be in force within 12 months and said that it would carry out audits to ensure that its suppliers “were compliant.”
3. Bernard Matthews had already made the change and Cargill, another of Asda’s meat suppliers, had recently changed its employment practices.
4. Meat processing plants received more unpleasantly revealing publicity a few weeks ago when the Equality and Human Rights Commission published the findings of its enquiry into working conditions, which concluded that exploitation and abuse of mainly migrant agency workers was rife. It threatened to name and shame companies unless practices changed.
5. A VEGA researcher recalls an invitation he made to the Guardian newspaper to join him in a visit to London’s Smithfield meat market, which was just around the corner from the Newspaper’s offices. The market, comprised bummarees, porters, haulers-back, and lorry-drivers, and was ferociously right-wing and a constant source of worry to the TGWU, a distinctly left-wing union, whom “the journalist and I happened to meet while he was trying to calm a dispute over a consignment of ‘Black Man’s Beef’ recently arrived from a big slaughterhouse in Botswana. I remember the warm weather and the flies on the uncovered meat, some of which had tumbled off a trolley on to the road.” The meat inspectors, who reckoned they were better surgeons than the practioners in St. Barts Hospital just across the way, were absent. Just across the other way there was a Cranks place; but also an oriental-style restaurant that was defiantly veggie. So the 3 of us repaired to this place for the delights of “dofu” and sights of the antics across the road of what were once so nicely categorized as “offensive trades.”
6. VEGA has in its data-base a film of the workings of Oldham slaughterhouse, which provided mancunians with their meat slaughtered in normal stun-stick-bleedout procedures or in Muslim or Jewish versions. These were attended by recognizable meat inspectors, who however refused to comment on the proceedings, and by the religious operators, who essayed explanations of their practices. None dwelt on the bullying of low-grade workers who were clearly both bloody and bowed.
7. VEGA’s experiences reach up to the present-day, via the Kill It, Cook It, Eat It TV episodes and personalities and now to April the First since when the Meat Hygiene Service’s have been rearranged. More news and experiences of that shortly. Meanwhile, the enormities of this ghastly massacre continue in a land falsely proud of its love of animals – but more as “tasty” morsels on the fork than as living and unmolested denizens of “our” planet.