The programme, ‘Supermarkets: the real price of cheap food’, particularly underlined the vulnerability of staff who are on zero-hours agency contracts to minimise employment costs.
Workers on zero-hours agency contracts were filmed arriving for work at Honeytop Speciality Foods, which makes own-label ethnic bakery products for top supermarkets, then being turned away because of a shortage of shoes. An undercover reporter got similar treatment.
Reporter: “I’m confused. Why am I going home? I’m confused, sorry.”
Worker: “Because you don’t you have the shoes and I don’t have the key. That’s why you going home.”
Reporter: “Okay, okay.”
One worker complained he had been forced to pay for footwear four times, because his shoes had been taken by others so that they could work, and get paid for, a full day.
Worker: “That cost me 80 quid.”
Reporter: “What do you mean cost you 80 quid?”
Worker: “Shoes. Because shoes have gone missing … And each pair of shoes costs 20 quid.”
Reporter: “So you’ve lost four pairs then?”
Reporter: “Lost them or what’s happened to them?”
Referring to the shoes, one worker told the reporter: “If they do get stolen we have to charge you … for another pair.”
Another worker at the Honeytop plant complained to the reporter that he had started work on the production line without any health and safety training.
Crawling up a conveyor
Workers were also shown repacking products that had fallen on the floor and another worker was shown crawling up a conveyor in order to restart it.
However, a Honeytop Speciality Foods spokeswoman told FoodManufacture.co.uk: ”A thorough investigation has been carried out into the misleading and speculative claims made by Dispatches.
”Our position is and always has been that we take our responsibilities for the health and safety of our employees, customers and consumers very seriously and take pride in producing the highest quality foods, in a safe and hygienic working environment, operating at the highest national and international standards.
”As part of our best practice approach we are also committed to ongoing training for all employees within our continuous improvement agenda.”
In a completely separate case, a migrant worker at a fresh produce facility complained of a gangmaster refusing him his P45, making his return to work in his home country difficult. He received the form back during the programme.
The gangmaster and the worker’s landlord were also living together, a practice that allowed the gangmaster to legally avoid paying the individual more to cover accommodation costs.
Dispatches claimed the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA), which was set up to police gangmasters, was under-resourced and needed more funding to help curb such practices.
In a statement, the Fresh Produce Consortium said: “We support the GLA in stamping out any abuse or exploitation of workers. Sufficient funding must be provided for the GLA to be effective and assist the industry in eradicating modern slavery. We await the outcome of the GLA’s investigation into the allegations brought to light by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme.”
However, a spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium said: “We totally refute the suggestion that retailers are responsible for worker exploitation. Our members were key to the creation of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority and work closely with them to expose such practices.
“They have demonstrated through their own ethical labour audits and support for initiatives such as 'Stronger Together' that they take a zero tolerance approach to the issue of worker exploitation.”