Worker welfare and the bottom line

Addressing the needs of harvesters and transporters can ensure fewer rejected birds at processing.

The well being of the workforce will translate into birds being handled with greater care.
The well being of the workforce will translate into birds being handled with greater care.

Concerns over animal welfare are becoming increasingly common throughout the world, and championing welfare has even become a marketing tool for some of the world’s multinational fast food operations. But what about the welfare of those people that work at the front line of poultry production? Why is there not always sufficient consideration of their welfare?

A failure to address the welfare of employees can have a serious economic impact on the profitability of a business, and companies should fully examine the benefits that can accrue from properly looking after the teams of workers engaged in the harvesting and transport of birds, and that can be achieved without significantly raising direct costs.

Harsh conditions

At some poultry farms it is common that staff arrive by foot, having walked a long distance, possibly in the pouring rain.

During working hours, it may be only the farmer and supervisor who have access to drinking water, while workers have to disconnect drinking tubes and consume medicated water if they are thirsty. When it is time to take a break, the harvesting and transport teams may only have access to cold food brought from home, and the only provision of seating may take the form of piles of bricks or fallen tree trunks.

In the case of accidents, there may not be a fully stocked first aid box, and this failure to fully consider welfare can even extend to a lack of a full first aid kit in vehicles, despite provision often being a legal requirement. The failure to address basic needs is often enormous.

Generally, workers engaged in the harvesting and capture of birds live in rural areas and may only have a basic level of education. They come to work on poultry farms simply because they are often located close to their homes.

If one turns to processing plants, kilos and even tons of rejected birds and parts can be common, reducing not only the volume of first quality products but also their total value, and there are reasons why birds arrive at the processing plant in such poor conditions.

Chickens are delicate birds yet they become the object of the frustration of those who handle them: workers who feel badly treated and discriminated against. These are people who carry a great emotional burden from subjecting themselves to harsh working conditions and whose working days can last for more than 12 hours when errors and delays occur.

Simple solutions

Fortunately, these working conditions are becoming less common as companies create better working conditions and address the social aspects of employing workers, paying attention not only to the chickens but also to those who handle them.

Various simple actions can go a long way in improving the lot of harvesting and transport teams. For example, when workers are collected from their homes to be taken to the farm, a modern vehicle should be used, for example a van, that is no more than three years old and that has air conditioning.

Fully stocked first aid kits should never be overlooked, but there are a number of more “human” approaches that can also be highly beneficial.

Providing staff with, for example, hammocks can make their working day much more bearable, allowing them to rest when work is interrupted due to delays in the arrival of cages or lorries, or any other unforeseen interruption.

Making large containers of chilled drinking water available and fridges for soft drinks can also help to make the working day easier and prevent the disconnection of the birds’ drinking water. Similarly, a coffee machine and a microwave oven will help to make the working day more enjoyable, as will folding chairs and a table.

The benefits of a happy atmosphere on profitability have been proven, and a happier atmosphere can be further fostered through provision of a sound system.

To facilitate compliance with regulations, workers should also be given uniforms, boots, safety goggles and gloves. Workers should be fully trained and reminded, not only of the responsibility that they have to their employer, but also of that they have to their families.

Finally, a dedicated trailer to store and transport all of the above will help to ensure that workers actually receive their benefit.

The involvement of the of the personnel department in the harvesting and collection of birds can help to ensure that any rules on working conditions that the company may have are fully carried out on site, or on those sites of subcontractors.

Benefits

So what are the benefits of this approach? There are various, but perhaps most importantly is the development of a group of workers that is committed to being able to carry on enjoying the working conditions that improve their lives and those of their families.

Developing this culture encourages workers to carry out their duties with conviction. If developed alongside a bonus policy for ideas that lead to a reduction in the number of birds that arrive at the processing plant suffocated or damaged, all you will see will be a workforce that is disciplined and keen to ensure that birds arrive at the processing plant in the best possible condition.

Harvesters and transporters are a key group of workers that can play a major role in ensuring the profitability of a company; it makes sense to consider their needs. More and more companies are now considering this group to ensure that the delicate chicken is treated more like child than a simple bird, as if only damaged goods go into the processing plant, only poor quality products will come out. 

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