On 10 September 2020, the European Federation of Trade Unions in the Food, Agriculture and Tourism sectors (EFFAT) tabled ten demands for action to reform the meat processing sector at European level.

For many years now, EFFAT has been slating the deplorable working conditions among meat workers in Europe. Whether employed through abusive subcontracting practices, as temporary agency workers, posted workers or forced to accept bogus self-employed status, the working conditions of a vast proportion of meat workers are simply deplorable. EFFAT affiliates report cold and humid workplaces, poor ventilation, overcrowded shopfloors and frequent injuries, cuts and falls. Moreover, many mobile workers are forced to live in overcrowded accommodation, either to cut costs or because the accommodation is directly linked to their employment contract.

The pandemic has cast a new light on the working and living conditions of meat workers in Europe, with all these different factors contributing to transmitting the virus. In a detailed report, EFFAT establishes a link between the working conditions and the number of Covid-19 clusters associated with meat processing plants. But there can be no getting around the fact that there are just few Covid-19 clusters in those Member States with decent working and living conditions.

With the problems affecting the sector far from being restricted to national borders, EFFAT is calling for a strong and ambitious EU response. It has tabled ten demands for sustainable action to put an end to the systemic exploitation of meat workers. Three of these demands are considered high-priority: a comprehensive EU initiative to regulate the use of subcontracting, ensuring decent housing for all mobile workers, and the introduction of a European Social Security Number (ESSN). More broadly, EFFAT advocates a comprehensive approach, from social policy to responsible consumer consumption.