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2 Jun 2020

Germany: Cabinet proposes new regulations to better protect meatpacking workers following COVID-19 outbreaks at slaughterhouses

Westfleisch, a meat processing plant in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) was forced to close after more than 150 out of 200 tested employees were positive for COVID-19, the majority of whom were from Romania and Bulgaria. The case follows a similar outbreak at a slaughterhouse in the state of Baden-Württemberg involving around 200 foreign workers, and has reignited concerns over poor living and working conditions, with officials saying shared accommodation in tight quarters was a possible reason for the outbreak. Slaughterhouses in Germany have come under fire repeatedly in recent years for poor labour and housing conditions, exacerbated by the common practice of subcontracting.

On 20 May, the German cabinet proposed key points for new rules and then on 29 July passed a draft law to better protect workers in a sector that employs many migrants and has a history of low wages, poor working conditions and living accommodation.

On 27 November, the draft law was officially agreed upon by the government, and after being debated in parliament in December, it was scheduled to enter into force on January 1, 2021. The new law bans subcontracting in the meat sector, but some temporary work is still permitted. This important development comes after years civil society campaigning for better labour conditions and an end to exploitation in the industry.