People don’t realise how much the food industry relies on precarious work – zero hour contracts, agencies and outsourced work. Covid has exposed the problem and now I’m supporting Sharon Graham to take on the super exploiters.
During the pandemic lots of sites couldn’t get enough food out. There has been huge pressure to work extra time, including weekend working. Even with all this extra production many of us have had no bonus or no Covid payments as a thank you. It’s just expected of you now. All the large sites owned by multinational companies in our sector are following the same pattern.
It’s been life draining, causing distress and anxiety, with a big impact on mental health. Everyone is waiting for that call, knowing we’re just one call or text message away from getting no work. Nearly half of us on sites are either on agency contracts or are outsourced – like logistics, cleaners, clothing stores, catering and security.
This has been the reality right across the food industry in the North. In many cases you simply can’t get a job if you don’t go in as agency. We all know people on agency contracts for 12 and 14 years; always wondering if they’re going to have work the following week.
Unless we have a plan to take on these super exploiters we can see what’ll happen. I’m worried sick that ‘fire and re-hire’ is going to take a hold here. On top of miserable zero hour contracts that would be a recipe for taking even more off workers than now.
I’ve seen the Organising Department in action and I know that Sharon Graham will finally get to grips with this problem. Sharon’s ideas of setting up new Combines to bring reps together in the industry has won results. By bringing reps from the ‘top ten’ employers together we can expose the undercutters, we can coordinate our actions and we can start organising to set a proper rate for the job.
When Sharon is General Secretary I know that Unite won’t hesitate to shine a light on what’s been happening. I know that real resources will be put down to give us the support we need. We won’t be living week to week at a manager’s whim, waiting for that phone call. It’s about winning the job security we deserve and also the dignity and respect we deserve. That’s something worth fighting for.