A slaughterhouse in Germany has filed for state support after a coronavirus outbreak spread to more than 1,500 employees and triggered a local lockdown. Under German quarantine law, the request might succeed.
Germany's agriculture minister on Sunday criticized a slaughterhouse responsible for a local coronavirus outbreak and lockdown for applying to have its workers' wages reimbursed by the state.
"I have little understanding of this [decision]," German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag, adding that the cluster of cases had affected an entire region.
Last month, a coronavirus outbreak at the Tönnies meat-processing plant in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) left more than 1,500 employees infected and triggered a lockdown in two nearby districts.
It was the worst coronavirus outbreak in Germany since the country began easing restrictions in May and sparked widespread criticism about the working and living conditions of mostly migrant workers in slaughterhouses across the country.
"The anger of the citizens about this will certainly not be diminished by the current action," the minister said.
As the outbreak unfolded, some 7,000 employees at the affected Tönnies meat processing plant in Rheda-Wiedenbrück were put under quarantine.
Slaughterhouse applies for state funds
Tönnies — the largest meat processing company in Germany and Europe — last week filed an application through Germany's Infection Protection Act. The legislation provides wage reimbursement to companies if health authorities close a plant and impose a period of quarantine.
A local official confirmed that the application will be processed once received.
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If approved, the state of NRW would reimburse Tönnies for its cost of wages.
Labor minister of NRW Karl-Josef Laumann told Bild am Sonntag it is possible the state will find the claim valid but warned about the message it sends to the public.
"If I were Mr. Tönnies and his business partners, I would think very carefully about what the citizens of North Rhine-Westphalia are actually expected to put up with," Laumann said, referring to the firm's managing director Clemens Tönnies.
Criticism from across the spectrum
An opinion piece from Bild am Sonntag, Germany's most popular tabloid, called the move "bold and shameless."
Co-leader of Germany's Green Party Anton Hofreiter said the company's actions are proof that promises of reform "were only empty words, and that you can't have confidence in the management."
Echoing Bild, he described the application as a bold move.
"Anyone who relies on a system of exploitation, risks the health of people, and is himself jointly responsible for quarantine measures being ordered, should better hold back on exhausting possible reimbursement claims," Hofreiter said.
Secretary-General of the country's business-friendly Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP) Linda Teuteberg called on the company to take responsibility where it had previously failed in terms of health safety measures.
"An entire region has been taken hostage for this. I think it's indecent to want to hold oneself harmless even at the taxpayers' expense," Teuteberg said.