This organisation and defence of migrant workers is a great example of progressive leadership, taclking racism and pushing forward labour organisation. - Ed.
· Retailer investigating conditions at meat plant
· Unite says Poles given 'zero hours' contracts
News Story by Matthew Taylor, Thursday December 13, The Guardian
Migrant workers at a factory which supplies meat to Marks & Spencer are suffering exploitation in a drive to maximise profits, a union report claims today.
M&S, which yesterday announced that sales of its organic turkeys are likely to top the £1m mark this Christmas, is considered to be one of the most ethical of leading high street retailers. However, a study published by the union Unite says that Polish staff at a factory in south Wales which supplies M&S with red meat are employed on a "zero hours" contract with no guaranteed number of hours, and suffer "harsh and divisive" conditions.Last night, an M&S spokeswoman said it had launched an investigation and was taking the allegations seriously.
The report, which focuses on the Dawn Pac meat factory near Llanelli, says staff employed by a local agency claimed that shifts were regularly abandoned at short notice, leaving workers stranded at the factory, sometimes in the middle of the night, because transport was only provided at the normal end of a shift. Some workers had to walk up to 15 miles to get home after being told by supervisors they were no longer needed halfway through a shift. In addition, those who opted out of agency accommodation and transport had their hours cut, it was claimed.
"We are creating a situation in local communities where work has become so insecure and casualised it evokes images of the casualisation of the docks before they were unionised," said Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite. "M&S prides itself on its image as an ethical retailer. We want them to practise what they preach."
When the Guardian visited the south Wales site, five Polish workers said they had turned up that day and had been told they were not needed after an hour's work. "I came to work at 8am this morning and I was sent home at 9am," said Maria. "There was no car, no transport back, so I was stuck there and I have now been told that I have three days off this week."
Staff, who receive £5.52 an hour, said their hours were cut when they stopped using agency accommodation or the minibus to and from the factory, which costs £7 a day. Jeff Hopkins, chair of the Welsh-Polish Association in Llanelli, said that when workers stopped using the full range of services laid on by local employment agency CSA Recruitment they became "less productive economic units...so they knock their hours down". According to Unite, CSA Recruitment charges around £250 to bring Poles to the UK. They sign a zero-hours deal when they arrive in the UK after a 36-hour coach journey.
Woodley said: "This is not just about one site or one agency. Our campaign is about the prevalence of agency working, and the consequences for workers and communities." Yesterday both Dawn Pac and CSA Recruitment declined to comment on the report's allegations.