An Equality and Human Rights Commission inquiry has uncovered widespread evidence of the mistreatment and exploitation of migrant and agency workers in the meat and poultry processing sector.
Workers reported physical and verbal abuse and a lack of proper health and safety protection, with the treatment of pregnant workers a particular concern. Many workers had little knowledge of their rights and feared raising concerns would lead to dismissal. While migrant workers were most affected, British agency workers also faced similar mistreatment.
The inquiry said it had uncovered frequent breaches of the law and licensing standards in meat processing factories - some of which supply the UK’s biggest supermarkets - and the agencies that supply workers to them. It also highlighted conditions which flout minimum ethical trading standards and basic human rights.
However, the inquiry also found examples of good practice with firms treating permanent and agency workers of all nationalities with respect. These firms benefited as a result, by being able to attract and retain well-motivated, loyal and increasingly skilled workers.
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As a result of the inquiry, the Commission is making a number of recommendations. They include supermarkets improving their auditing of suppliers; processing firms and agencies improving recruitment practices, working environments and the ability of workers to raise issues of concern; and for the Government to provide sufficient resources for the Gangmasters’ Licensing Agency to help safeguard the welfare and interests of workers.
Following the report, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC's) Head of Public Policy Anne Fairweather said: "The report shows that it is perfectly possible to use the flexible resource of agency labour without resorting to exploitative practices."
Responding to the recommendations in the report REC said:
* Where the law is flouted these practices should be clamped down on by enforcement agencies. The Gangmaster Licensing Authority has considerable powers and should strengthen efforts to use intelligence to root out the worst abuses;
* The REC fully supports the work of the Department for Business in promotion of the Pay and Work Rights Helpline, which is receiving increasing recognition by vulnerable workers as the place to go for advice and enforcement action against those employers and agencies who break the rules;
* Some of the issues raised, such as equal pay and more protection for pregnant workers, are addressed by the Agency Workers Regulations 2010;
* On the suggestion that temporary workers should all be made employees, this proposal should be treated with care. Agency work is a vital route back to work for many unemployed people. Hirers are willing to take on agency workers, when they would not necessarily be in a position to employ staff due to economic uncertainty as we rebuild after this recession. The move towards full employment rights could limit job creation through the hiring of temporary staff.
Fairweather said: "While we recognise the concerns of the EHRC, their own research has shown that with good management, and good commercial relationships, agency workers can be very well treated. REC will work with the EHRC and other stakeholders to encourage best practice and to ensure that employers only use legitimate labour providers who abide to regulations and Industry Codes of Practice. The REC also calls on the Government enforcement agencies to redouble their efforts to stamp out discriminatory and illegal working environments."
This article was taken produced by Recruitment Today and can be found here
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