Our employees are precious to us. We want to offer an inclusive workplace. We believe it is important that our employees have confidence in the people with whom they work, that they are given opportunities to develop themselves and that they are proud of their contribution within our organisation. Every employee deserves recognition for this. Good employment practices are not therefore limited to the people who have an employment contract with the VanDrie Group. We think it's important that temporary workers also feel at home within the VanDrie Group.
Occupational safety and health
The coronavirus crisis placed the theme of occupational safety and health in 2020 in a new light. A direct consequence of this was that additional measures were taken within our companies, in addition to the strict hygiene rules that were already in place. Where possible, our colleagues worked from home. A daily health check and direct disinfection were imposed at our production locations, which applied to all employees and visitors. A risk-oriented testing policy was implemented and wearing face masks became commonplace. In accordance with the guidelines from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), production spaces were adjusted and the transporting of employees and hired-in workers was monitored. In our meat processing companies, special ‘coronavirus supervisors’ monitored compliance with the measures.
In spite of these measures, we were not able to keep out COVID-19. After more than a year of strict monitoring, various employees at subsidiaries in Apeldoorn tested positive in April 2021. Based on the baseline measurement, 55 people out of 1,360 employees turned out to be positive. This equates to an infection rate of 4.04 percent. In response to this, a decision was taken to close ESA until further measures could be implemented, such as more intensive testing and further adjustments in production halls, corridors and hygiene locks. The activities of Ekro and Ameco were also halted, as a precaution, in order to be able to guarantee absolute occupational health and safety for employees. Following an intensive improvement plan with lots of checks by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), Veiligheidsregio Noord Oost Gelderland (Security Region North East Gelderland) and the Social Affairs and Employment Inspectorate (ISZW), the companies were able to quickly normalise the situation. Colleagues from T. Boer & zn share their experiences during the course of 2020 here.
Position of hired-in workers
In our current working method, we make use of a considerable temporary workforce. Our ambition is to change this in the coming years. In 2021, a plan will be made to take on more permanent employees. We know that we cannot achieve his overnight and must continue working together with employment agencies. In order to safeguard the position of hired-in workers, we want employment agencies to make every effort to ensure that the living and transport conditions of our hired-in workers are kept fully in line with the guidelines, which, at the time of the COVID-19 crisis, were shifted to those of the RIVM and the applicable coronavirus protocols. We have been monitoring this right up to the present time. In 2020, we actively visited the housing locations of the migrant workers who work at our companies in order to make an independent assessment of the living conditions on site. Moreover, we verified in all cases whether that accommodation met the standards of the Stichting Normering Flexwonen (Foundation for Flexible Housing Standards, SNF). It was also identified which additional measures were necessary or desirable. This assessment was shared with the hiring companies and with the Dutch Meat Association (COV). In our internal audit plan, we included in 2020 that we want to repeat such checks annually. These checks will ensure fair pay, accommodation standards, good registration of data and that employees have health insurance. In 2020, we launched consultations with the municipality of Apeldoorn about achieving more and improved residential facilities for hired-in workers. However, given the pressure on the housing market, this is a difficult challenge.
In 2020, discussions got under way in order to reach a new collective labour agreement (CAO) for the meat sector in the Netherlands. The previous collective labour agreement had a term of fourteen months and ended on 31 December 2020. On 7 May 2021, a new collective labour agreement was concluded. This collective labour agreement will run until 1 March 2022. The actual wages will be increased by 1.5 percent with retroactive effect from 1 March 2021 and by 1 percent from January 2022. In the previous collective labour agreement, an important outcome was achieved as a result of the negotiations: a special scheme for demanding professions, as a result of which employees can retire earlier.
Retiring earlier becomes possible due to the new Heavy Work scheme for the meat sector
In 2020, the collective labour agreement for the Dutch meat sector included a heavy work scheme for the first time. This new scheme was a result of the pension agreement. The meat sector is therefore one of the first sectors in the Netherlands to have developed such a heavy work scheme and make it available to its employees. Godfried Biemans, P&O Manager at ESA, is a member of the joint working group that developed this scheme.
Godfried Biemans: “In the meat sector, we are dealing with an ageing population, especially in the production departments. My generation started working very early and was generally very loyal. At a meat processor, you could therefore develop into an excellent professional with a certain specialism. However, this does make it difficult for them to find other work later in their careers. Working in a production environment of a meat processing plant is physically demanding work. At ESA, too, we have noticed for some years that employees who have been working in production for a long time have higher levels of absenteeism and visit the company doctor more frequently.
In view of the state pension age being raised to 67 in the Netherlands, not only the VanDrie Group but the entire meat sector felt the urgency to consider tax options that would allow the older generation of employees performing heavy work to retire earlier. At the end of 2020, COV representatives, together with the FNV and CNV trade unions, achieved a tax arrangement that makes this possible. The scheme applies to employees in the meat sector who have worked in a physically demanding job (had meat in their hands) for at least 20 years and have been employed by their final employer for at least 10 years. It’s a temporary scheme that will last up to the end of 2025. This is a kind of generation pact that is now very relevant in view of the ageing population in our sector.
The heavy work scheme is a kind of generation pact that is now very relevant in view of the ageing population in our sector.
At the same time, we are working within ESA on ways to further improve sustainable employability. For example, we are investigating the extent to which parts of our production process can be further automated and robotised. But also how we can organise task rotation in the production departments more effectively, so that employees have more physically diverse work. This is not easy, because it would require a person to learn new skills. Fortunately, we see that the younger generation is open to this.”
Read more about the heavy work scheme.
Education and training
Due to the coronavirus crisis, a substantial proportion of our training courses were postponed. We did take measures, however, to ensure that all essential, regular training courses could go ahead. Examples include training on food safety and extra training regarding animal welfare. Work placements and graduation assignments also still took place, with the caveat that remote working was also the norm there. In 2020, we offered a place to 34 trainees. In 2020, a start was made on a joint training institute. In addition, the existing knowledge and available e-learning courses will be combined within our companies. In this way, we will learn from each other and we will motivate our employees to continue developing themselves.