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Underpaid, Easy To Sack: UK's Poultry Workforce

by 5m Editor
24 September 2007, at 10:59am

UK - The government will face a challenge from unions tomorrow over the impact of migration on Labour's core working-class voters. The use of agency workers, most of them migrants, to drive down the pay and conditions of British workers is the sort of contentious issue the Labour leadership hoped to prevent being aired at the annual party conference but unions have decided to force the issue with a "contemporary" resolution demanding action.

Poultry sector

The largest supermarket poultry slaughtering and packing factories in the UK are increasingly dependent on low-paid migrants employed through agencies, the T&G says. The sector is dominated by three companies: Grampian, Moy Park and Bernard Matthews.

The union accuses the industry of using agency labour to bypass normal employer obligations, giving examples from Grampian and Moy Park to the Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform. It believes over a third of agency workers in the sector have been working for more than six months but as well as being paid less for the same work, they lose out on sick and holiday pay, it says. The union claims that at some sites up to half the workforce can be migrants from agencies.

But the companies dispute the figures. Grampian says its chicken business employs almost 4,000 people, of which 6.7% (264 people) are agency labour. It says it uses migrant agency workers "to complement its core workforce at times of peak production, for short-notice cover, and in areas where it has become difficult to recruit due to low levels of unemployment and the rural nature of facilities." Some 1,400 union members took strike action in April at Grampian factories over pay, the use of agency workers and cuts in pensions.

At Moy Park poultry factories, agency workers, most of them migrants, are paid the minimum wage and not only receive less money than permanent workers doing the same jobs but miss out on sick pay and holiday, according to the union. Moy Park said it needed agency workers to cover peaks in demand and because there was a shortage of local workers. Some 350 agency staff have joined Moy Park since January and more than 600 in the past 18 months, a spokesman said. He added that the company met all the requirements of EU law and the ethical trading code in independent audits.

Source: GuardianUnlimited

5m Editor