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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Unite 'Golden Toilet' Award for Tesco and Meat Supplier

Posted to the IUF website 30-Jun-2008

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As part of its wider campaign to raise standards in the UK meat industry, the UK's Unite on June 27 presented transnational supermarket chain Tesco and one of its meat suppliers with the union's 'Golden Toilet' award for requiring workers to clock off for toilet breaks. Brown Brothers, which manufactures processed meats for Tesco and other retailers at two plants in Scotland, not only requires workers to clock off and on to visit the toilet. Workers seeking exemption from the regime are required to provide a medical certificate, meaning that pregnant women or those having their period would have to seek special medical authorization to visit the toilet without loss of pay!

Protective clothing worn by staff can require up to ten minutes' removal time. One worker reported the loss of an hours' wage from weekly pay as a consequence. Brown Brothers contends that unscheduled toilet breaks cause "disruption" and has refused to alter the regime, so the union has called on Tesco to put an end to what Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley calls "Dickensian employment practices".

On June 27, golden toilet award ceremonies were held near one of the two Brown Brothers plants and at a nearby Tesco store. "Tesco need to get out there, see what's going on and then act quickly together with the union to ensure decent treatment of workers in its supply chain," said Woodley.

Depriving workers of adequate toilet breaks - or taking them out of the pay packet- is not only a violation of fundamental human rights and dignity - it is a workplace health and safety hazard, and therefore a union organizing issue. A comprehensive dossier on this issue - including information on the medical risks resulting from toilet deprivation, a look at what various OHS laws have to say and successful union organizing efforts - is available on the UK Hazards website here.