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T&G/UNITE's organizing drive in UK meat processing delivers results

Posted to the IUF website 03-Dec-2007

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On October 30-31, the T&G section of the IUF-affiliated UNITE union held its first ever sector-wide meat meeting. More than 80 shop-stewards covering 26,000 workers from white and red meat processing plants in the UK and Ireland gathered in London to discuss co-ordinated strategies and priorities in the meat processing industry. Among these are the demand that all UK meat companies agree to equal pay and common minimum standards for agency labour, accept agreements for union representatives to have time off in fulfilment of their union duties and harmonize dates for the renewal of plant-level collective agreements.

Organizing in the meat industry has been a strategic priority for the T&G since 2004. Organizing has resulted in a major increase in the scope of collective bargaining in white meat, with over 80% of workers now covered by collective agreements compared to only 30% three years ago.

The UK meat industry has experienced major changes and a steady deterioration of working conditions over the past 15 years. Consolidation, increased line speed and automation, outsourcing and cheap meat imports have caused a significant deterioration in employment conditions and workplace safety. The emergence of a vulnerable migrant workforce - often at the mercy of ruthless gangmasters and recruitment agencies servicing meat packing companies has established a two-tiered system of workers, dividing workplaces and communities.

Through intensive organizing and coordinated action, T&G-organized poultry processing workers have already won pay equity for agency workers at Bernard Matthews, broken a pay freeze unilaterally imposed at Grampian Foods and increased membership at Moy Park. The red meat leg of the campaign is now targetting all the major companies in the UK market, including Tulip, Kerry, Dawn and Cranswick. Sharon Graham, director of organizing for the T&G section of UNITE said: "uniting workers across meat in a combine that covers thousands of organised workers, will ensure that we can build on the initial wins such as minimum standards, but also that these workers now can focus on their key industrial priorities together".