Summary of the Dutch book: How many vacation days does a pig have?

Working animals are animals that work for our food supply, our safety and our entertainment. Animals that make a (financial) contribution to the company for which they work. Working animals used for food production are in bad shape. A large proportion of working animals suffer pain as a result of housing or the way they have been bred. Chickens with broken breastbones, broilers whose weight prevents them from walking, cows with mastitis and sagging backs, pigs with bitten tails. They spend their long, boring days in large stables without daylight. Many animals are traumatised because they grew up without their parents. Boredom is a big problem and affects their mental health. Studies confirm time and time again that this suffering is not an exception but everyday practice. Other research shows that animals are living beings with emotions and a language to communicate with. Working animals are an essential part of livestock farming, but in most cases they are treated badly.

For these working animals I wrote this book, and, together with others, founded the Trade Union for Animals: The Union for Animals strives for the granting of labor rights to working animals. Labor rights protect workers from exploitation and unfair treatment by employers.

There are great similarities between working animals and the workers who moved from the countryside to the city a hundred and fifty years ago, and faced exploitation by their employers in the factories. The trade union movement successfully stood up for these people when it turned out that they were individually unable to do so. The Union for Animals stands up for working animals in livestock farming. These animals have no rights whatsoever, they are legally comparable to a television or a car. The Animals Act, which includes working animals, is actually a usage law that specifies what people are allowed to do with animals without being punished for doing so. The intrinsic value of the animal is recognized in it, but this fact has no consequences.

In humans, the dialogue between employers and the trade union starts with the employees. They express their dissatisfaction, let them know what they are and are not satisfied with and ask representatives to represent their interests. This is no different with animals. Through the behavior that animals show, the sounds they make and the resistance they put in, they indicate where the shoe pinches. Where their working conditions do not meet minimum requirements. Labor law sees employees as partners in the social dialogue between employers and employees. Working animals deserve that role too.

In this book I describe six labor rights that I believe every working animal should be entitled to. These six labor rights are:

  • The right to a safe working environment
  • The right to a healthy working environment
  • The right to a social life and privacy
  • The right to rest, vacation and pension.
  • The right to a non-violent life
  • The right to participation

Not every right can be filled in the same way for every animal species, customisation is required. But the starting point is clear: working animals must be legally protected against exploitation by their employers and given the opportunity to have a say in their own working conditions. That can be done in many ways. Animals are very good at making it clear through their behaviour, language and body communication what they do and what they do not want. We are creating a scientific source of information with a Council of Animals that is yet to be set up. This Council fulfils an essential role in consulting the members of the Trade Union for Animals. The Union will then ensure that the views of the working animals are discussed with farmers, and represent the animals at the boardrooms of companies that purchase products from working animals.

This book is the start of a change process. A process that leads to the conclusion of collective labor agreements between the working animals and their employers. And then to a legal process to anchor these collective labor agreements in law. This legal status is necessary to create a level playing field for entrepreneurs. This process is not set in stone, far from it. I don’t know what we will encounter in the coming years, what knowledge we lack to be able to speak meaningfully on behalf of the working animals. What resistance we will experience from employers who believe that only they determine which ’employment agreements’ they make with their working animals. How quickly society will realise that our current way of dealing with animals is no longer acceptable. What I do know is that millions of working animals in the Netherlands alone deserve a better life. And I try to contribute to that with this book. Many other people can also make a valuable contribution. Scientists and animal protectors, but also entrepreneurs, trade associations, supermarket chains and dairy and meat processing companies. Anyone who reaps the fruits of the work these animals do. Anyone who feels involved. Are you in?