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.

According to DW, the company said 13 people have been hospitalized, and the rest are isolating with "mild" symptoms. In a comment provided to Der Tagesspiegel, Westfleisch added that accommodation for its employees, including those of contract partners, is similar to that of families and flat-sharing communities, in that the majority of apartments are occupied by three, four or five people. A statement in German is available on the company's website. More information is also available below and here in German.

On 20 May, the German cabinet proposed new rules to better protect workers in sector that employs many migrants and has a history of low wages, poor working conditions and living accomodation. The draft regulation, which needs to be adopted by Parliament, takes aim at the common practice of subcontractors. It would also obligate employers to provide authorities with information on accommodation provided.

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Autor/in: Grace Meng & Hugh Williamson, Human Rights Watch

The meatpacking industry in Germany [...] has recently seen outbreaks of Covid-19 at multiple facilities across the country, and hundreds of migrant workers from Eastern Europe have become infected...

Last week, the cabinet of Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed new rules for its meatpacking industry, a sector that employs many migrants and has a history of low wages, poor working conditions, and cramped company-provided accommodation. Under the proposed rules, which need to be adopted by Parliament, starting next year, Germany will ban the common industry practice of contracting out meat processing work... This practice has shielded German companies from legal responsibility for migrant workers’ employment conditions.

The new draft regulations also increase penalties when employees are required to work longer than the legal limit of 10 hours per shift and obligate employers to provide authorities with information on accommodation provided to migrant workers.

Separately, the cabinet also urged local authorities to implement additional measures to protect the health of meat industry workers during the pandemic...

The new rules in Germany won’t eliminate workers’ vulnerability to abuse altogether. Trade unions note that more regular inspections of meat processing plants are needed...

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Autor/in: Rebecca Staudenmaier, Deutsche Welle

"Germany agrees stricter meat industry regulations following coronavirus outbreaks", 20 May 2020

[The] German [...] government agreed on a framework of new regulations for the meat industry on Wednesday.

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil spearheaded the push for more regulation in the country's powerful meat sector after new COVID-19 hotspots erupted at several slaughterhouses across the country, with hundreds of migrant workers from Eastern Europe infected...

The new regulations will be put into a draft law which will have to be approved by parliament.

The new rules particularly take aim at the use of subcontractors in the branch and seeks to make German meat packing plants and large slaughterhouses responsible for their largely migrant workers...

Employers that provide living accommodations for their workers will also be responsible for providing authorities with information about where their migrant workers are living...

Until now [...] German slaughterhouse operators would sign special contracts with subcontractors...

These types of contracts mean the German companies are not legally responsible for the personnel, leaving workers vulnerable...

Although criticism of the health conditions for workers at meat plants isn't new, the coronavirus pandemic has served as a catalyst for change...

Meat industry representatives pushed back against the new regulations, warning that the move could have serious economic consequences...

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Autor/in: Reuters

"Germany to ban subcontracting in meatpacking industry after virus outbreaks", 15 May 2020

Germany will order meatpacking plants to stop using subcontractors and to improve hygiene standards in the workplace and accommodations, after more than 600 cases of coronavirus among workers in the industry, a draft government proposal said.

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil of the Social Democrats [...] plans to present the proposals to Germany’s “corona cabinet” on Monday. Reuters reviewed a draft.

Recent outbreaks have shone a spotlight on a sector that relies on workers from Eastern European countries, especially Romania, often hired by subcontractors and living in cramped accommodation near processing plants.

“Insufficient hygiene and a lack of safety measures, especially in accommodation and during transport, can lead to infections among workers and subsequent dangerous outbreaks,” the labour ministry’s draft proposal said.

Infections at slaughterhouses in several German states have been accompanied by reports that social distancing and hygiene standards were ignored, it added.

Most recently, an outbreak at a meat producer in the western German town of Coesfeld made headlines after mass testing revealed that more than a quarter of the 1,000 workers had contracted the coronavirus...

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Autor/in: FRANK JORDANS Associated Press, NBC15

At least 260 workers at Westfleisch's slaughterhouse in northwestern Germany have tested positive for COVID-19 in recent days...

As authorities scrambled to contain the growing outbreak over the weekend, it emerged that many of those infected were Eastern European migrants working for subcontractors who also provide them with accommodation and shuttle buses to work...

[I]n a statement, the company said it was "deeply affected" by what had happened in recent days.

"We are fully aware of our responsibility," Westfleisch said, adding it now requires workers at facilities that remain open to wear face masks on site, have their temperature taken at the gate and work in clearly separated small groups. The company said it is also trying to impress upon workers "the importance of hygiene and behavior measures in the company and in private settings."

The outbreak has caused consternation in Berlin, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers Wednesday that the government plans to make "necessary changes" to rules for the meat industry...

Olaf Klenke of the NGG union, which represents workers in the food industry, says the outbreak could be the right moment to clamp down on outsourcing in the meat industry...

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Autor/in: General-Anzeiger

Following a coronavirus outbreak in a Westphalian meat processing plant, all of the approximate 1,200 employees at the site are to be tested for the virus. On Thursday alone, 200 workers at the Westfleisch company had already been tested, the district of Coesfeld announced on Thursday. 129 employees were infected, 13 of them had to be treated in the hospital, but none in the intensive care unit.

A company spokesperson explained that the employees had symptoms that were relatively mild. All infected persons who were not in the hospital and their contact persons are now in domestic quarantine. At the gate to the plant, workers are now being tested with a contactless fever scanner in order to quickly detect suspicious cases.

The company is in close contact with the authorities, the spokesperson said. Contrary to initial fears, production at the plant has not been stopped. It will continue at a reduced scale.

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Autor/in: Deutsche Welle

Following a COVID-19 outbreak at a meat processing plant in the town of Coesfeld, near the western German city of Münster, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has become the first to activate an "emergency mechanism" and delay the loosening of lockdown restrictions in the administrative district of Coesfeld until May 18...

The localized spike in cases comes after a test Thursday of 200 employees at the Westfleisch meat processing plant revealed 151 were positive for COVID-19. The company said 13 people have been hospitalized with moderate symptoms, and the rest are isolating with "mild" symptoms.The plant will be closed until further notice.

Laumann [NRW Health Minister] said the majority of workers were from Romania and Bulgaria, and their shared accommodation in tight quarters was a possible reason for the outbreak.

At the end of April, a similar outbreak at a meat processing plant in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg involved around 200 foreign workers who were infected.

Laumann said on Friday that an estimated 17,000-20,000 employees in all of the NRW's 35 slaughterhouses will be tested for COVID-19, included all 1,200 workers at the Westfleisch plant...

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