An increasing number of German fishing companies are moving production to low wage countries. Poland, which also profits from EU subsidies, has become a favorite destination.
Rarely made in Germany these days
"We want to stay, we want to stay!"
That's what workers recently screamed at Cuxhaven's Lysell company, which produces fish delicatessen. Warning strikes have been happening since the beginning of October, along with repeated negotiations between employee and management representatives.
Workers at a fish processing plant in Tallinn
The workers are protesting company plans to move the entire production, including 170 jobs, to Tallinn, Estonia's capital. Leaders of Germany's food industry union NGG have already issued a complaint with the federal labor office about 150 job cuts.
Lysell workers got lucky in the end. The state of Lower Saxony, where Cuxhaven is located, vouched for a €1.4 million ($1.76 million) credit for the company. But employees will still have to give up some of their vacation and Christmas bonuses and work longer in return for a three-year job guarantee.
Things don't look much different in nearby Bremerhaven -- except that the Happy End failed in this case. Delicatessen company Nadler recently laid off 130 people and moved some of its production to Poland. Nadler has long owned a plant in the Polish town of Poznan (Posen), where workers producing pickled herring only earn €3.50 per hour.
It's a wage level Germans can't compete with, said Jürgen Ohlzen, NGG's general secretary.
Ulrich Kasper, who works for Bremerhaven's fish auction house, holds up a red snapper
"We could lower wages in Germany by half and still wouldn't get anywhere near the Polish level," he said, adding that it's a trend that concerns him.
"This can lead to other companies saying, 'Alright, now we can move to Poland with a clean conscience as well.'"
Many companies already have cooperation agreements or subsidiaries in Poland, Ohlzen added.
"We can't compete with that," he said.
Ten years ago, 4,500 people were still working in Cuxhaven's fish processing factories. Today, 1,500 workers are left.
High EU subsidies
After EU enlargement last May, shifting production to eastern Europe has become even easier as Poland and the Baltic states are now members of the union.
Workers in Bremerhaven are sorting red snappers
The bloc has set aside hundreds of millions of euros for the fishing industry in the 10 new member states -- Poland alone will receive €200 million over the next three years to modernize its fishing sector. Just recently, 35 Polish companies were certified to work according to EU hygiene standards, allowing them to produce for the common market. It's these numbers that have not just Ohlzen fearing that Cuxhaven't workers won't have been the last ones to cry for help.