Saturday, August 06, 2011

Spot the Difference!

UNITE the Union has issued this statement about Thanet Earth, a company that supplies many of our supermarkets, and like much of Britain's agri-business, employs a lot of migrant labour:

Investigation finds major supermarket supplier breached labour guidelines
August 5, 2011

The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) has concluded its investigation into agency labour suppliers at the Kent-based agricultural producer Thanet Earth and found that legal guidelines have been breached.

Unite welcomes this investigation, but calls on the supermarket clients - including Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s - to go further and uphold the commitments they have signed up to under the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI).

The GLA found that the agencies failed over the payment of wages and failed to have adequate grievance and disciplinary procedures in place. They also criticised Thanet Earth Marketing Ltd for failing to take complaints over pay seriously, despite Unite helping over 70 workers make complaints.

Unite has been pushing the ETI organisation and the supermarkets to take action over wages, union rights and security of employment, that goes beyond the legal, minimum standards upheld by the GLA and meets their own, enhanced commitments.

Unite regional officer, Dave Weeks, said: "It is time for Asda, M&S and Sainsbury’s to take their ethical commitments seriously and help us ensure that Thanet Earth cleans up its act.

"We welcome the serious way in which the GLA has gone about its duties. We now wish to see the same seriousness from the Ethical Trading Initiative and the supermarkets that are signed up to it.

“These big High Street brands claim to uphold the rights of all workers in their supply chains. Yet Unite has complained that the majority of workers at Thanet Earth are still in insecure employment, and the agencies bypass legislation to avoid paying industry rates. The company has also gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent our organisers from speaking to workers. The GLA has even found evidence of illegal breaches of its code.”

Recently dismissed worker, Vanda Sefer, added: "In my third year of employment at Thanet Earth, and as a known union member, my work was stopped when I took paid holiday. I had no dismissal hearing and no right of appeal. This is how the agency scares people from taking holidays and from joining the union. The supermarkets should not let this happen to people."

Notes to editors:

The GLA concluded that the method of calculation of holiday pay and entitlement was neither transparent nor compliant with guidelines; no one they talked to knew their entitlement or how it was arrived at; and there was no clear statement of holiday pay included on wage slips.

It also conceded that due to the numbers of complaints that were made, Thanet Earth Marketing Ltd clearly knew there was a big problem and should have acted on it. The company has been instructed to improve on this.

The GLA also failed the agencies on a lack of grievance and disciplinary procedures. Unite has helped over 70 agency workers take grievances out, none of which have been acted on formally.

And now here's how the BBC reported the matter:

Agencies supplying staff to the UK's biggest greenhouse complex have been cleared of wrongdoing after complaints by a trade union. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) investigated three agencies used by Thanet Earth in Kent after Unite said they breached legal guidelines. It found no issues with two agencies. A third was asked for more evidence and re-issued with a full GLA licence. Unite said it welcomed the serious way in which the GLA had investigated. Thanet Earth staff agencies 'did not breach guidelines'

And naturally the company giving its side says:
"Thanet Earth fully exonerated by impartial investigation

This is not the first time I have noted faulty and less than impartial reporting by the BBC, and particularly in the South East, so I suppose I should not be surprised by this example. However the previous cases bore the marks of accepting governmental spin or being swayed by an influential political lobby. In this case so far as we can see the corporation is taking the side of a private business in the way it reports things.

Ewa Jasiewicz who has worked for Unite as an organiser as well as being a professional journalist is angry that the BBC quotes the union to support its report when in fact it is saying the opposite to what Unite said. But Ewa feels strongly also because of her own experience. "As a Unite organiser I have worked on this campaign and personally worked with workers involved who have had their rights violated by agencies and Thanet Earth. This is a total stitch-up and we must expose it."

Ewa is urging supporters to contact the BBC complaints department. "Send them links to the Unite release and challenge them on their skewed reporting.. Also, contact Thanet Earth direct and complain. Judy Whittaker and 01892 831 280

Background info can be found on the Unite website,
and the blog

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At 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to have missed this - It looks to me to be what the BBC based their report on.

Before you have a pop at the Beeb, it may be worth noting that apart from the Thanet Gazette and the Morning Star, they were the only media outlet that reported the inital - uninvestigated - allegations.

Maybe you could amend your blog to reflect this.


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