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Background to the meat and poultry inquiry


In October 2008, the Commission launched an inquiry into recruitment and employment in the meat and poultry processing sector in England and Wales.

We wanted to examine how the people working in this industry are recruited, and how they are treated once they are at work. This would help us to identify practices that inhibit equality and damage relations between different nationalities and types of worker, and barriers that prevent progress. It would also allow us to make recommendations to overcome these issues by drawing on current good practice in the industry.

We looked at employment and recruitment issues related all stages of meat and poultry processing and packaging activity prior to delivery to retail outlets but excluding the slaughter and initial preparation of red meat.

This is a summary of our findings and the recommendations we believe will bring about change are available in our Inquiry report.

The food and drink manufacturing industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. The meat and poultry sector is a significant part of this, employing 88,800 people, a third located in the East of England and East Midlands. The red meat sector is of particular importance to the Welsh economy, employing over 33,000 people and contributing £361 million a year, including exports worth £108 million.

There is considerable use of agency, predominantly migrant, workers in this sector. Overall, migrant workers make up 70 per cent of agency staff in processing firms and over one-third of their employees.

We had received evidence that agency workers were treated differently to directly employed workers in terms of pay and conditions and their treatment at work, and that there were tensions between different nationalities in the workplace. We wanted to explore the extent of these issues and recommend ways of resolving them.

The aim of the Inquiry

We therefore carried out a statutory inquiry (in accordance with our powers under section 16 of the Equality Act 2006) to:

  • understand the issues affecting these workers
  • examine the impact of current recruitment and employment practice on individuals and on relations between workers of different nationalities, and
  • look for examples of good practice which promote equality of opportunity for agency workers and good relations between different nationalities in this sector.

Last updated: 26 May 2016