Meat processing plants: COVID-19 hotspots in Europe
While we have witnessed a COVID-19 outbreak at a Melbourne meat processor in May, there are many more outbreaks happening at meat and poultry facilities across the US and Europe.
Some have reported that the reason such facilities have become hotspots for the spread of COVID-19 is because of the cold, humid environment, together with close proximity of workers. Now a new report from the European Federation of Trade Unions in the Food, Agriculture and Tourism, EFFAT, says that in Europe it’s because of poor working, employment and housing conditions affecting thousands of meat workers.
Back in May, the US Safe Food Coalition called on the development of a standard for facilities to maintain social distancing between personnel throughout the work day, improve ventilation, install workstation dividers when distancing is not possible, provide adequate personal protection equipment, increase sanitation and handwashing opportunities, and ensure policies that keep sick workers home, such as paid sick leave.
It also called for a stop to the issuing of line speed waivers which allow poultry plants to exceed the normal maximum speed of 140 birds per minute. It was believed that running slaughter lines at maximum possible speeds undermines efforts to maintain social distancing.
The EFFAT study released this month outlines the effects of coronavirus on the meat sector in various countries across Europe, and provides an overview of the work arrangements and business practices pursued by meat companies to cut costs and escape employer liability. It paints a bleak picture of a sector in need of urgent and serious reform, while highlighting instances of good practice as evidence once again of the crucial role for collective bargaining in setting decent labour standards and ensuring fair competition.
According to the report, exploitative working conditions, overcrowded accommodation, up to 16-hour working days, low pay, illegal wage deductions and job insecurity are just some of the injustices facing meat workers in Europe.
Inevitably, COVID-19 has exacerbated many of these issues, leading over the last few weeks to numerous meat processing plants becoming vectors for the spread of the virus.
EFFAT’s report calls for concrete and urgent actions, including binding measures, to be adopted both at national as well as EU level. It argues that EU initiatives are specifically needed to tackle the unfair competition that has destroyed thousands of jobs over recent years in the meat sector across several Member States.
The full report can be downloaded: Covid-19 outbreaks in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants: state of affairs and proposals for policy action at EU level.
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