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German Cabinet moves to fight abuses in meat industry

July 29, 2020

Anglea Merkel's Cabinet has approved a draft bill that would ban the use of subcontractors and agency workers in the meat industry. Although this should mean working conditions get better, not everyone is pleased.

Staff at work at a slaughterhouse in Garrel, Lower Saxony. Archive image from February 2019.
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Assanimoghaddam

The German Cabinet on Wednesday approved a draft bill aiming to put an end to the use of subcontractors to hire workers in the meat industry, after its often dire working conditions were highlighted by several outbreaks of COVID-19 among employees.

The bill stipulates that when any meat-processing company has 50 or more workers, only those employed directly may slaughter and process animals.

Fines for violating working time regulations will also be raised to a maximum of €30,000 ($32,800). Previously, the fines were capped at €15,000. There will also be a digital system for logging working hours to better ensure people are not working longer than the legal limit of 10 hours per shift.

In addition, accommodation of employees will have to meet minimum standards, even if it is not situated on company premises.

Read more:  Germany: Former abattoir worker 'heard colleagues crying at night'

'A good day'

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, who drew up the bill, spoke of a "good day for workers' protection."

He emphasized that the new regulations targeted large companies, and not the smaller butcher's businesses in rural areas.

The bill has been drawn up after coronavirus outbreaks at several slaughterhouses cast a spotlight on abuses within the industry, with workers, many of them from eastern European countries, often living in unsanitary conditions and working inhumanely long hours. The use of subcontractors to hire workers has come under particular scrutiny, as it has enabled German companies to shirk responsibility for their employees' welfare.

Read more:  German slaughterhouse overhaul: Radical reform or return to status quo?

Exploited workers in Germany

Praise and censure

The Food, Beverages and Catering Union (NGG), which represents workers in the food industry, welcomed the new regulations, calling them "historic."

But the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry (ZDG) has voiced vehement criticism, with its president, Otto Ripke, saying the government was endangering meat production in Germany and that the ZDG would subject the regulations to a legal review.

Ripke told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung that he expected meat prices to go up as a result of the changes.

Heil, in his turn, called such fears "fairy tales," saying if this were the case, there would have to be discussion about profit margins in the industry.

Read more:  Germany: Former abattoir worker 'heard colleagues crying at night'

Corona Outbreak in a meat factory

tj/msh (AP, dpa)