Food workers debate certification for temporary labour

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European union

EU trade union associations are debating whether an
independent certification scheme for temporary work agencies
supplying meat processors could help stamp out the use of
illegal labour.

A meeting held in Warsaw, Poland on 11 October marked an ongoing part of the debate, which could eventually lead to the European Commission establishing a similar EU-wide system to the "gangmaster" regulation currently in place in the UK. The management of UK food processors face fines and a possible jail term if they are caught using unregistered temporary labour providers in the UK. Earlier this year the European Commission proposed a similar measure for the whole bloc, one that is now under debate. The meeting in Warsaw was organised by the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (Effat) in a bid to stamp out a practice by some agencies to use low-cost illegal labour in supplying the meat sector. The schemes could lead to a "white or black" list of agencies which can be used within the European Union, thus restricting processors to using only certified agencies, Effat stated. Union representatives also considered ways to increase the dialogue with management in the meat sector. Eric Dresin, an Effat spokesperson, said the unions discussed what he described as a "difficult" issue during the meeting in Warsaw. " This is sensitive issue both politically and technically for the trade unions themselves,"​ he said, adding that the organisation would come to some resolution before approaching the Commission. In July a joint declaration by Effat and Clitravi, the EU association representing meat workers, found that about a million people worked in the meat sector in the 25 member countries in 2003. Germany, France and the UK together contributed 55 per cent of the EU-25's total value added in the meat processing sector and engaged about 50 per cent of the EU sector's workforce, the report found. Poland's meat processing sector employed an 11.9 per cent sahre of the EU-25's total. However, Denmark was the only member state that showed notable specialisation in the activities of meat processing in 2003, the report stated. "It is in our common interest to prevent and fight illegal activities within the processed meat industry,​" the Effat report stated. "Unfortunately these activities still occur in some countries within the EU, where unscrupulous businessmen, unlawfully bypassing food safety, taxation and social provisions, sometimes are jeopardising the image of the sector as well as consumers confidence in the meat products."​ In May this year the European Commission proposed a series of sanctions - including criminal prosecution - against companies that continually break illegal labour laws. The Commission is proposing an EU-wide requirement that all employers undertake specific checks before recruiting a third-country national and notify national regulators. Employers who cannot show that they have complied with those obligations will be liable to fines and other administrative measures. Member states would be required to pass laws imposing criminal penalties against those who have repeatedly infringed the law, who are caught employing a significant number of illegal labourers, who operate using exploitative working conditions, or if they know that the worker is a victim of human trafficking. The proposal mirrors new laws in the UK aimed at cracking down on the use of illegal labour in the agriculture and food manufacturing sectors. A similar EU-wide law would expose managers across the bloc to fines and possible jail time. The Commission estimates that up to 4,000 people die each year entering the EU illegally. Frattini added that illegal employment also distorts competition and the functioning of the EU's internal market. Currently, checks on staff records in Europe's firms are rare, with employers making checks on about 2 per cent of their workers in 2006. The Commission proposal requires member states to inspect at least 10 per cent of their companies every year. The European Council, the bloc's highest decision making body, has already endorsed the Commission's proposal at a meeting in December 2006. Member states already have sanctions to combat illegal employment, but these vary in severity and enforcement. Ensuring that all countries introduce similar penalties, and enforce them effectively, will avoid distortions on the single internal market caused by unfair competition from employers of illegal migrants, he said. The number of illegal migrants employed in the EU range between 4.5 and eight million, increasing by up to 500,000 per year, according to Commission estimates. A new UK law, that came into force at the end of last year, requires processors to source their temporary labour from licensed gangmasters. The law applies to suppliers of temporary labor to agriculture and food processing operations. The law makes it illegal for businesses to employ workers through unlicensed gangmasters, private individuals or companies that supply labour to industries. Those who use workers or services provided by an unlicensed gangmaster face a prison sentence of up to 51 weeks and a maximum fine of £5,000. Gangmasters who continue to trade without a licence willface potential penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

Related topics Processing & Packaging

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