Due to increased corona outbreaks at slaughterhouses, Groko has decided to ban contract work and agency work in the meat industry.

The corona outbreaks in meat factories also generated discussions about working conditions Foto: Wolfgang Rattay/reuters

After corona outbreaks have accumulated in slaughterhouses, the federal government now wants to tackle the grievances in the meat industry. On Wednesday, the cabinet passed a bill from Federal Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil (SPD), which will fundamentally prohibit the employment of contract workers and agency workers in the industry from next year. After the decision, the minister spoke of a “good day for occupational safety”.

Specifically, the law stipulates that in future companies with a size of 50 or more will only be allowed to slaughter and dismantle animals that are permanently employed. The use of contract workers is to be prohibited from January 1, and from agency workers from April 1, 2021.

Recently there had been major outbreaks of infection in slaughterhouses. At the meat producer Tönnies in Westphalia alone, 1,400 employees were infected with the corona virus in June. The mass outbreaks once again highlighted the long-criticized working conditions in the meat factories. Many employees come from Eastern Europe and are not permanently employed, often they have to live in unworthy accommodations.

Heil wants to start here too. For example, his draft law stipulates minimum requirements for the accommodation of employees in shared accommodation, which should also apply outside the premises of a company. These are planned across industries. “Nobody should have to live in moldy or overcrowded rooms,” said the minister.

“Historical” new regulation

In addition, the payment of the minimum wage should be easier to check. The law includes a duty to digitally record working hours in the meat industry. The corresponding framework for fines will be doubled from 15,000 euros to 30,000 euros. Generally there should be more controls.

Representatives of the meat industry criticized the decision as expected. For example, Otto Ripke from the Central Association of the Poultry Industry announced a “careful legal review”. “What was decided there shouldn’t be true,” he said. The government is putting meat production in Germany at risk.

Industry representatives also fear that the law could make meat products more expensive. Minister of Labor Heil rejected these objections as “old wives’ tales”. “Decent working conditions in themselves do not make meat more expensive,” said the minister.

However, praise came from the workers’ side. The food-pleasure-restaurants union called the new regulation “historical”. Union vice president Freddy Adjan called for “in a second step” nationwide collective agreements for the industry.

The improvement will only come in five years

The opposition parties in the Bundestag also fundamentally praised Heil’s draft. The Greens MEPs Beate Müller-Gemmeke and Friedrich Ostendorff spoke in a joint statement of a “necessary and important step”. At the same time, they emphasized that the draft “should under no circumstances be watered down by lobby influence”.

Jutta Krellmann from the Left welcomed the decision, but criticized the fact that a control quota will only be available from 2026: “Nothing will change for five years.” Johannes Vogel from the FDP also called for improvements in the controls. In order for the law to come into force, the Bundestag and Bundesrat still have to agree.