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German government approves stricter rules for meat industry

November 27, 2020

Germany's grand coalition government has finally agreed on stricter labor rules for the meat industry. COVID-19 outbreaks at slaughterhouses have highlighted dire working conditions in the sector.

Pig carcasses hanging on hooks at a slaughterhouse in Lower Saxony, Germany
Image: Ingo Wagner/dpa/picture alliance

Germany's grand coalition parties on Friday reached an agreement on stricter regulations governing working conditions in the meat industry, months after meat workers' poor working conditions were exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.

The law was delayed several times because of differing views between the parliamentary parties of the conservative CDU/CSU bloc and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). It is now to be presented to parliament for approval in mid-December and go into force at the start of 2021.

The new law will aim to prevent large meat corporations from delegating responsibility for the welfare of workers to subcontractors. Among other things, it will completely ban the use of temporary workers in slaughterhouses. The ban will not apply, however, to companies with fewer than 50 employees.

Read more: Europe's meat industry is a coronavirus hot spot

Cows being cut up with a saw at a slaughterhouse
The cool, dry conditions in slaughterhouses are thought to help the coronavirus spreadImage: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Krato

Temporary exception

Exceptions are to be made on a limited and regulated basis in the meat-processing industry but only for the next three years. Under the law, such companies will be allowed to employ temporary workers to a limited extent during peak times, such as the summer barbecue season. Those workers will have to be paid the same and enjoy the same protections as core employees, according to the SPD's deputy parliamentary leader, Katja Mast.

This exception was included at the wish of the conservatives, who had long resisted any complete ban on temporary workers.

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, who is from the SPD, said that the law would put an end to "sub-, sub-, subcontractors and organized irresponsibility" in the meat industry.

Earlier this year, several outbreaks of coronavirus at German slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants had exposed the often dire working and living conditions of many of the people from eastern Europe working in the industry. Heil promised at the time to "clean up" the meat industry.

Read more: Germany's exploited foreign workers amid coronavirus

Tönnies and its contract workers - Exploitation in Germany

tj/jlw (epd, Reuters)