Europe | Trade Unions | Meat

Successful #MeatTheStandards campaign comes to an end.

The meat sector: exploitation and massacre

With a press conference, the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), which represents 116 trade unions in 37 European countries, ended its #MeatTheStandards campaign to raise awareness of the urgent need to improve working conditions in the meat sector.

Gerardo Iglesias and Daniel García

24 | 4 | 2024

Photo: EFFAT

This campaign was inspired by the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act, which significantly improved working conditions in the German meat processing industry.

EFFAT, the European regional of our International and its affiliates, urged the authorities emerging from the June 9 European elections to discuss improvements in labor standards.

Over the past two years, IUF affiliates around the world have supported the campaign and disseminated EFFAT‘s complaints.

Kristjan Bragason, General Secretary of the Federation, stressed the importance of these achievements in advancing the rights and welfare of workers in the meat processing industry throughout Europe:

«Working conditions in the meat sector have tainted the European labor market. Regardless of its profitability, a sector cannot prosper if it is based on exploitation and social dumping» he said.

Also participating in the conference, held on Tuesday 16, was Guido Zeitler, chairman of the German Food Workers’ Federation (NGG).

«It took many years of struggle against exploitative structures in the German meat industry for outsourcing and subcontracting to finally be banned by law,» Zeitler said.

«It was a milestone that we now want to achieve together for Europe (…) We need stricter regulation and controls, here in Germany and in Europe,» he claimed.

The NGG and the dignification of the meat sector

It should be recalled that already in 2008 NGG went on strike denouncing appalling conditions at Südfleisch, after it was taken over by the Dutch transnational VION in 2005, which among other things insisted on increasing the working week from 38.5 to 42 hours without additional remuneration.

«In our opinion this conflictNGG emphasized at the time – is significant not only for Germany, but for Europe and internationally. Through social dumping policies German ‘cheap meat’ would become an assault on meat workers worldwide

In 2021, the Federation organized new union measures against the persistent precariousness in Germany‘s meatpacking plants. The sector employs 160,000 people and at least a quarter of them – mostly from Central and Eastern Europewere earning minimum wage, forcing them to live in dire conditions.

Three months of tenacious struggle by the NGG, plus pressure from the IUF, resulted in a staged wage increase of 28 percent. The national mobilization also highlighted the importance of the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act passed in 2020, which improves controls in the meat sector and introduces severe fines in cases of violations.

The law, which came into force in January 2021, prohibits subcontracting and work through temporary employment agencies, both in slaughtering and meat processing.

According to Johannes Specht, NGG leader, «the strike process and the impact of the legal regulations allowed workers who used to come only for the season and then returned to their home countries, without the possibility of union organizing, to now bring their families to live in Germany and be willing to belong to a union,» he told Rel UITA.

By June 2021, the Federation had added 1,400 new members.

Imagen: EFFAT
EU on EFFAT’s Radar

On the eve of the European elections, the Federation and its affiliates launched the #CallingEU campaign to get the EU to address three priorities for the trade union movement: unregulated labor intermediaries, abusive subcontracting, and lack of inspections.

This new campaign aims to urge the EU to take responsibility for raising labor standards in a «sector like meat, plagued by poor conditions, subcontracting and exploitation

In Spain, for example, the sector employs some 33,000 companies that employ more than 100,000 people. Sebastian Serena, food industry secretary of FICA UGT, stresses that «the industry is affected by seasonality and subcontracting, problems that have been solved in part thanks to union action and labor reform (2022), but still has many difficulties.»

“It is a sector in which people do not want to work because of its harshness and sacrifice,» he adds.