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Meat worker – like a slave

While the Romanians talk about the food processing industry, meat workers threaten to strike

11 November 2008. While the Romanian community in the UK is answering to our article Food preocessing regulations and the Dracula connection , meat workers threaten to strike.

Unison
, the Britain and Europe’s biggest public sector union, warns with strikes threatening the supply of meat this Christmas. The inspectors are complaining about the treatment of some food industry workers, including the Romanians and Bulgarians.

Michael Barker, columnist for The Grocer , writes about the scandalous conditions many food industry workers face. “As I witnessed first hand last month when I accompanied a GLA (Gangmasters Licesing Authority) investigation, for some food industry workers it’s even worse – wretched conditions, endless working hours and sub-minimal pay. As we complain about the high cost of food, we should spare a thought for those people earning as little as £1.25 an hour. These aren’t workers in Indonesian sweatshops, but economic migrants who came to the UK in search of a better living."

Second-hand citizens
The jobs open to Romanians and Bulgarians in the UK food processing industry sector sound like that: "meat bone extractor", "animal gut remover", "meat slaughterer" etc.

Dan Staicu-Kosch, chairperson for the Romanian Self Support Group, commented that Romanians cannot accept being considered second hand citizens of the EU. He said, „I wonder how a worker from Northern Ireland would feel if he only got access to the jobs refused by workers in Wales or Scotland. Every European state has got the right to defend its labour market, but it shouldn’t separate the European citizens in different categories – some to be discriminated, others not.”

The chairperson considers as a fair rule the fact that the British citizens are equal on the European labour market and that any British citizen expects to get free access to any job in the EU. „But also any Romanian citizen expects the same treatment. Romanians and Bulgarians entered the EU last year, it really meant they met the standars of the other European states. The citizens of the new member states deserve to be treated with respect by the other members of the Union”, Dan Staicu-Kosch said.

Reluctance to accept east Europeans
The attitude of the Romanian Self Support Group reminds us of the Romanian president’ discourse in front of the European Parliament in January last year, when the Romanian people was welcomed to the European Union. Mr Basescu asked, „Why Romanian workers may be denied access to other Member States’ labour markets, even though they are honest?” The EU has bridged the old East-West divide, but there remains some reluctance to accept east Europeans as members of the European family, said Mr Băsescu, appealing to politicians to ensure that peoples understand each other better, so as to strengthen the unity of the 27 members.

It’s a British policy

Our editorial focus has given the opportunity to discuss the only jobs open (“meat bone extractor”, “animal gut remover”) to Romanians and Bulgarians in the food processing sector. The Romanian Embassy in UK has sent us a letter writing:

„Great Britain’ policy restricts the access of the low-qualified workers and allows, adapted to the needs of the labour market requires, the access of the skilled or highly skilled workers, giving priority to the British citizens and citizens of other European states. From the 1st of January 2008, the low qualified jobs can be occupied only by citizens from the European Union.” Labour and Social Affairs attache, Bogdan Carpa-Veche, wrote us that the UK Agriculture Sector and the food processing industry were identified as experiencing deficitary employment, and it was considered that the free jobs cannot be filled with indigenous workers.

The letter from the Embasssy concludes that „the British authorities allowed a total numer of working permits to be given every year to Romanian and Bulgarian citizens who want to work in the two sectors. In 2008, there are 16.250 jobs in agriculture and 3.500 in the food processing industry.”

Let them free to work
We received a message from an NGO volunteer who tells us „I deal with the Romanian and Bulgarian workers, and the labour regulations referred to them are very tricky. I hope that something is going to happen regarding these restrictions.”

The volunteer, who wants to remain anonymous, considers the regulations so difficult that not even the officials from the Home Office or Job Offices give the same answers regarding the regulations.
”It is discrimination. Romanians and Bulgarians enter legally in the UK, but they are not allowed to find a job legally. If they have no access to benefits, at list they should be entitled to work as any citizen of the European Union. What else should they do in the European Union?” demands the NGO volunteer.

Ridiculous

Director Costel Petre, the „Romania in the 3rd Millennium” NGO, finds the food processing regulations about Romanians just ridiculous and blames the old Romanian governments for this situation.

He said,„The labour rights of the Romanian citizens in the EU follow the application of the Treaty of Accession Romania to the EU. These stipulations negotiated by the Romanian government make possible the discrimination of the Romanian citizens in many European states.”

Director Petre alludes to the “knife crime” and says “We would enjoy more British youngsters who really have the skills to join the Romanians in the food processing sector.” And he concludes that the economic crisis in the UK can make the fight for Romanian and Bulgarian immigrant rights more difficult.

Radu Tutuianu

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