‘The whole system is rotten’: life inside Europe’s meat industry

‘The whole system is rotten’: life inside Europe’s meat industry

Unions are calling for a Europe-wide ban on the use of subcontracted workers, kept on lower pay and conditions

Read more: exploitation of meat plant workers rife across UK and Europe

Every inch of Margot’s body hurt from the unrelenting work. Her hands bled from blisters that burst as she repeatedly hauled carcasses, but she would wait until she got home to sterilise her wounds with ammonia. “If you didn’t do your job well, you’d be pushed – they didn’t care if your hands were full of blood,” she says.

This wasn’t the life Margot* imagined when she left her job in a clothes factory near her home village in Romania in search of better prospects for her young family in western Europe. She thought labour conditions in the Netherlands – where she worked for three years in a meat factory – would be much more favourable than in her home country. “I didn’t expect it to be so awful.”

Life as a meat worker can be brutally hard. But Margot soon realised there were two types of workers: employees, who she says were mainly Dutch; and precarious workers, mostly migrants like herself, who had to work harder and faster but earned less. “The ones hired directly by the company have more rights, get more relaxed work, stability and hours,” she says.

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