Our employees are our most important capital. Without them, we would not be able to make our wonderful products. It is therefore important that we manage to attract, retain and train employees. As an employer, we also have the responsibility to guarantee the safety, health and welfare of all our employees.
Safety, health and welfare of our employees
By continually improving safety, welfare and working conditions, we want to create a healthy and safe working environment for all our employees.
A considerable part of the work in our production environments involves heavy labour. We are therefore investing in robots and automation that takes over routine tasks. As a result of this, we can reduce the physical burden on our employees. In 2021, for example, the calf skin processor Oukro equipped an important, but also physically strenuous, part of the production with a robotic arm. This robotic arm weighs and places the calf skins on the correct pallets. As a result of this, it is no longer necessary to do this manually. In total, this concerns about 900,000 calf skins per year. The development of this robotic arm took about two years and is an initiative of the VanDrie Group in collaboration with Robotize and is unique in Europe.
A lot of work is performed manually, especially in our meat processing companies. We believe we can make this work easier by using automation. In 2021, we created two PhD research places, in cooperation with the University of Twente, in order to map out the opportunities and possibilities in our meat production.
Social partners in the Netherlands, the Central Organisation for the Meat Sector (COV) and trade unions FNV and CNV drew up the Zwaar Werk Regeling voor de Vleessector (Heavy Labour Scheme for the Meat Sector) in 2020. This scheme gives substance to the joint protocol agreement from the collective labour agreement for the Dutch meat sector. The scheme is meant to ensure that employees who have performed heavy labour for a long time are actually able to stop working earlier. From 1 January 2021, employees in the meat sector can take part in the scheme. In 2021, nine employees made use of the scheme at four Dutch meat processing companies. In addition, a new collective labour agreement for the Dutch meat sector took effect as from 7 May 2021. 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.
A good working environment is not only characterised by good primary working conditions, but also by working together with committed colleagues, who enjoy going to their work. You should also feel safe in the workplace and be treated with respect. In 2021, we introduced a compass for how we want to act, in every link and every company of the VanDrie Group. This was shared in 11 different languages with all employees within the VanDrie Group. The compass describes who the VanDrie Group is and what we do, but it also says something about the rules of conduct that we want to apply with each other. We expect all our employees to act in accordance with our values: committed, one step ahead, with an eye for quality and responsible. Moreover, there is no room for bullying, discrimination or sexual intimidation.
It is a topical theme: breaches of integrity in organisations. However, what should you do if you have any questions about the behaviour of a supervisor or you see that the law has been contravened? Many companies wonder how they should deal with this topic. People Intouch seize on this a few years ago and developed the ‘SpeakUp’ integrity tool. In October 2021, the VanDrie Group added this tool to its compliance policy. Employees, suppliers and veal farmers can report wrongdoings here completely anonymously.
“SpeakUp is called a whistle-blowing tool, but that’s not what it is actually”, says Leanne Valom, adviser at People Intouch. ‘It is not a whistle-blower to the external media. It is a reporting procedure that should actually foster dialogue and an open culture in an organisation. It is a last resort when all other options have been tried or if you, as the person making the report, don’t feel comfortable reporting matters openly.”
‘A report can be made anonymously and in your own language”, explains Leanne. “The fact that this is possible in everyone’s own language is of major importance to the VanDrie Group, where many nationalities work together. That is possibly via telephone or the website. When you call, you record your report. That report is given a code number in order to guarantee anonymity. The report is then sent to the translation agency that transcribes it. That transcription ends up with the person who is handling the report. That person subsequently draws up a response that is linked to the code of the person making the report via the translation agency. The person making the report can respond to that. In this way, it remains accessible and people don’t have to fill in endless lists. It is important that through communication, the trust of the person making the report can be rebuilt.”
Seeking openness on this theme is quite sensitive. However, if you don’t do that, it has potentially major ethical and financial consequences, and you quickly face the risk of reputational damage. “If you don’t want to turn compliance into a paper tiger, you have to be sure to continue to invite your people to make reports. That means that you have to acknowledge that something could be going wrong in your company and that you communicate honestly about where you stand.
Attracting, retaining and training our employees
By offering attractive terms and conditions of employment and sufficient training opportunities, we want to attract, retain and train professional employees.
In 2021, 4,000 employees worked for us, both permanent staff and hired employees. We are strongly dependent on the input of temporary employment agencies in our Dutch meat processing companies. Our ambition is to change this in the coming years. In 2021, we started working in a focused way on a plan to employ more permanent employees. In the period from 1 July 2021 to 1 January 2022, we offered a permanent contract to five percent of the employees who had been working two years or longer for a temporary employment agency. We will continue these efforts in the coming years. That is a challenge. Accommodation must be available to hired employees from abroad. That is not sufficiently available at present. People also have to want a permanent contract; many agency employees from abroad indicate that they only want to enter into a short-term employment relationship.
There is a lot of knowledge and expertise within our companies, but that is also needed on a permanent basis. We are encouraging this, by offering custom-made courses and training programmes to employees or by supervising young people in training and employment schemes, in collaboration with vocational training organisations, such as SVO vakopleiding food. The Adult and Vocational Education Act requires upper secondary vocational students to do the practical component of their training course at an approved work placement company. The four meat processing companies in the Netherlands are recognised as official work placement companies, as well as Labora, Navobi, Alpuro, Alpuro Breeding and Schils. We find training students to be an enjoyable and rewarding way to bring in staff who are eager to learn and motivated. Many students remain connected to our organisation after their training programme. Students bring a fresh outlook to the company, as well as up-to-date knowledge and new insights. That is why we offer plenty of work placements. In 2021, we offered placed to 43 trainees.