Published: 20/09/2002

On September 11 the IUF Global Meat Conference ended its three-day meeting in Toronto by adopting an action plan for future co-ordinated trade union work in the meat sector. Eighty-two delegates from 29 different unions in 21 countries in all regions of the world participated in the work of the conference, which was hosted by the UFCW.

Delegates in focus group sessions identified priority issues for ongoing trade union international work in the meat sector. Improving health and safety for meat and poultry workers, and the prevention of repetitive strain injuries through the implementation of proper ergonomics standards are a high priority. Delegates viewed a video presentation on organising poultry workers around these issues produced by the North American RWDSU/UFCW. Delegates from the Dutch FNV Bondgenoten and German NGG unions presented the results of health and safety programmes negotiated with employers’ organizations.

Organising new members, especially among vulnerable immigrant workers, was identified as another priority. Delegates from the UFCW described the union’s struggle to organise immigrant workers, many of them undocumented, in the face of hostile employers and unresponsive government authorities. The Japanese union Zensen stressed the need to organise part-time and contract workers in the industry.

Delegates also discussed improving ways of consulting and representing existing membership in the sector. The Danish NNF described an ongoing programme to consult its members on their priority bargaining objectives.

Improving working conditions represented another common theme The Dutch union reported on the results of a comparative study of working conditions in the pork industry in five European countries. The study showed that both pay and conditions were best in the well-managed Danish industry, which produced quality export products and negotiated fairly with a union that was supported by 100% of the workers in the industry.

In most countries, workers in the meat and poultry sectors were facing increased work pressures through speeding up of production lines, caused by the demands of the major customers, supermarket chains and fast food restaurants. The delegates expressed an interest in more cooperation with unions in these sectors.

Another priority was identified as restoring consumer confidence through effective programmes for food safety. Delegates from Japan described the crisis in the industry caused by consumer fears of illnesses related to meat products and illegal business practices by some companies that undermined consumer confidence. Delegates agreed on the importance of establishing credible autonomous food safety authorities at the national level as well as high international food safety standards.

Finally, delegates expressed concern about the consequences of the accelerated concentration and globalisation of the meat industry that was creating a number of giant corporations that were hostile to trade unions.

A specific meeting focussed on the anti-union US meat transnational Smithfield Foods brought together representatives from Brazil, Poland, France and North America to start to build an international IUF coalition of unions to present a common front against the aggressive anti-worker policies of that company.

To address these priority issues, the delegates agreed on an action programme that requires cooperation among national unions and coordination through the IUF secretariat.

Delegates agreed that unions at the national and local levels are responsible for developing a solid membership base, organising new workers, particular among the more vulnerable groups such as immigrants and contract workers, and pressing for strong national legislation (such as ergonomics standards) in each country. In order to avoid social dumping, delegates agreed to regularly circulate information on comparative working conditions and to build on best practice.

Follow-up activities will be organised on the regional level, particularly in Europe, where the widening of the EU will bring in several major meat-producing countries.

Conference delegates also participated in a solidarity picket line at the Indonesian consulate in support of the locked-out workers at the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia.