German abattoirs awash with COVID-19 – and still EU demands UK meets THEIR standards

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Now Germany is set to clamp down on corner-cutting working practices in its abattoirs and meat processing plants after a surge in coronavirus cases was linked to the industry. Employment Minister Hubertus Heil is proposing new national rules banning firms from hiring sub-contractors and only allowing full employees to work in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.

There is very little use of sub-contractors either seasonal or regular

Nick Allen

The move comes as EU negotiators insist Britain maintains European food standards once it finally leaves the bloc at the end of the transition period on December 1 as part of their so-called “level playing field” demands.

But UK industry chiefs have always insisted their standards are already higher than those required under EU law.

And British meat processing plants rarely use sub-contracted labour even though single market regulations would allow them to do so.

Nick Allen, chief executive of the British Meat Packing Association (BMPA) told today: “We recently surveyed our membership and there is very little use of sub-contractors either seasonal or regular.

“The survey also told us there was virtually no use of zero hours contracts.”

Germany has continued with the low-cost practise of outsourcing the slaughter of animals to mostly Eastern European seasonal workers despite criticism from fellow EU member states over the poor pay and working conditions which help achieve low prices competitors struggle to match.

But surges in the number of coronavirus cases among seasonal workers in meat processing factories have now pushed Germany towards introducing a ban – although such a move could contravene EU freedom of trade directives.

Mr Heil has condemned the system of “sub-sub-sub-contracting” in abattoirs – where sub-contractors sometimes rely on other sub-contractors to get staff.

Seasonal workers are often forced to live in cramped accommodation which health chiefs suspect has contributed to coronavirus outbreaks in abattoirs.

Mr Heil’s proposals include stricter and tighter controls as well as higher fines for breaches of the rules.

His calls for a crackdown come after a further 31 workers at an abattoir hit by a coronavirus outbreak in mid-June tested positive for the disease.

The Toennies plant in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck was ordered to close last month after about 1,500 workers tested positive for COVID-19.

That outbreak in turn led to about 600,000 people in the surrounding Guetersloh region being put back in lockdown, which has since been lifted.

The company faced criticism from German authorities when it was unable to provide addresses for the sub-contracted workers.

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Local authorities allowed the plant to reopen last week after a new health and safety plan was introduced including testing all workers twice a week for coronavirus.

The company, which owns 19 meatpacking plants across Germany, said it was voluntarily ending the practice of using sub-contractors for animal slaughtering and meat processing and planned to recruit 1,000 workers by the end of September.

Managing partner Clemens Toennies said the changes were the first in a series, and show the group is taking the demands made on it seriously and working at speed “to meet the demands of politics and society”.

He said the company aimed to end all sub-contracting in slaughtering and meat processing by the end of this year.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany went up by 684 to 206,926, today, according the latest data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases. The reported death toll rose by six to 9,128.

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