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29 Jan 2021

Şerife Erol and Thorsten Schulten, Social Europe

Germany: Academics welcome new legislation to protect meat workers & call for industry-level collective bargaining

"An end to wage-dumping in the German meat industry?", 26 January 2021

For a long time, the meat industry in Germany has been heavily criticised for wage-dumping by its European neighbours, based largely on exploitation of migrant workers from eastern Europe. Numerous outbreaks of Covid-19 in German slaughterhouses once more focused public attention on the precarious conditions of these workers. Now Germany has adopted a new legal framework, including a ban on contract and temporary agency work, creating an opportunity for a more fundamental renewal of labour relations in the sector...

...The new legal framework is an important precondition of more fundamental improvement in working conditions. The ban on contract and temporary agency work and the overcoming of a two-tier workforce in the meat factories will also make it easier for trade unions to regain organisational strength at the workplace and to put pressure on the companies for better labour regulation.

On its own, however, the framework will not be sufficient to ensure decent conditions across the sector, as the companies are only obliged to provide the legal minimum requirements, such as the statutory minimum wage. A further vital step would be resumption of industry-level collective bargaining, to determine binding standards throughout the sector.

Given the intense competition in the industry, establishing decent working conditions requires a floor of industry-wide minimum standards, to prevent individual firms gaining a competitive advantage simply through low-cost production. To ensure better working and living conditions for the migrant workers, industry-level collective bargaining would have to encompass not only such minimum provisions but also—as in other industries—more comprehensive stipulations to ensure decent conditions for all employees, covering pay, working time, holidays and so on.

Such an agreement would offer a binding framework for competition in the industry and contribute to ending destructive price competition on the backs of the workforce. It would also represent an important step towards a much-needed change in the sector’s dominant business model and could indeed lead to an end to wage-dumping in the German meat industry.