Ariège: the slaughterhouses of Couserans in crisis

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Hit for several years by the lack of profitability, the Couserans slaughterhouse is in crisis, a crisis that reached its peak a few days ago with the hunger strike of an employee and the dismissal of its director. Point.

Accounts in the red, a manager in conflict with certain users, an employee on a hunger strike, a wholesaler for a new volunteer manager: the Couserans slaughterhouse is in crisis, a crisis that provisionally ended on June 15 with the departure of its director, Laëtitia Brunet.
The story begins three years ago, when the latter was hired with the mission of reestablishing the financial balance of the establishment. “There was a deficit of 150,000 euros out of a budget of about 800,000 euros”, recalls Laëtitia Brunet. The problem is that while studying the prices I realized that the prices they charged were not good. The slaughter of cattle is thus invoiced at 0.19 euros per kilo, while the cost price of the slaughterhouse is 0.24 euros per kilo, that is, a loss of 21% for the company.

First conflicts

That is when the difficulties appear. Established since 2011 as a SCIC (cooperative society of collective interest), the slaughterhouse is managed by five associations that bring together elected representatives of the Couserans-Pyrénées community of municipalities, owner of the premises, employees, breeders, butchers and wholesalers. The latter are not happy to see a looming increase in prices, which would affect their margins. One of them in particular, according to Laëtitia Brunet: Patrick Garcia, managing director of SAS Les Fils de Fort Basile which, with a volume of 950 tons of meat of the 2,000 tons processed annually by the slaughterhouse, represents almost half of the production of this last activity.
“He got angry and accused me of being incompetent,” says the former director. The board of directors agreed with me despite everything, the prices were increased and Mr. Garcia, who did not agree, went to the Boulogne-sur-Gesse slaughterhouse for three months. “Result: an additional hole of 30,000 euros.
“It is true that it was complicated with Mr. Garcia, confirms Alain Metge, mayor of La Bastide-de-Sérou and vice president of the community of municipalities in charge of the slaughterhouse. But Mrs. Brunet did not see that it was not enough to increase the rates, it was also necessary to save money, which was not done. The interested party claims the opposite, recalling that the number of company employees has increased from 15 to 11 since their arrival, which forces the slaughterhouse to resort to quality control and maintenance service providers.
“Suddenly they told me that they wanted to lower my salary, that it was that of the former director and that Mr. García had set it, continues Laëtitia Brunet, so that I had to be fired so that the slaughterhouse would continue to rotate, reduce the payroll and we did not increase the load of the wholesalers. And all this while I had the Covid…”

An address, yes, but voluntary.

“You have to remember that when the SCIC was created, four elected officials managed the slaughterhouse on a voluntary basis, which operated without a director,” recalls Alain Matge. In 2016, they got tired, the volume had gone up to 2,000 tons, the financial balance was in a small surplus, we told ourselves that we were going to try and create a director position. But it was going to be expensive, it was a gamble. »
The decision to fire Laëtitia Brunet was made when she returned from sick leave last April. An employee, Pascal Castagna, then tried to call a strike to support the director, without success. On May 13, he began a hunger strike that lasted 28 days (see below). The dismissal is finally abandoned in favor of a conventional break and Patrick García voluntarily takes over the head of the slaughterhouse.
“We can’t afford a director at the moment, explains Alain Metge. We ask for a loan guaranteed by the State, but it is to absorb the operating deficit and we have to repay it in five years. However, we have managed to reconstitute a team of loggers and the community of municipalities is contributing around 400,000 euros in investments this year, but the subprefecture asks us to find someone for maintenance and a quality specialist. »

A conflict of interest?

Isn’t there a risk of a conflict of interest in appointing the slaughterhouse’s main client as director, when the losses are still around 85,000 euros? “It is true that Mr. García represents almost half of the activity, but on April 1 we raised prices again and it was he who accepted the highest increase, Alain Metge wishes to underline. I even think it will be better, you won’t be able to blame the management for spending the money wrong. And he’ll probably have to take another small raise. »
“I lived through it very violently, they didn’t give me the opportunity to succeed,” estimates Laëtitia Brunet today. Patrick García will have to deal with a delicate equation: a slaughterhouse that reaches the limit of its capacity but that, in competition with those of Pamiers and Saint-Gaudens, will not be able to increase its prices indefinitely.

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