Germany cracks down on meat industry after coronavirus outbreaks

Germany cracks down on meat industry after coronavirus outbreaks

Faced with a brewing scandal over a number of coronavirus outbreaks at slaughterhouses, the German government is cracking down on questionable work practices in the meat industry. 

German meat industry can no longer use subcontractors

After some tense, protracted discussions, the federal government agreed upon the cornerstones of an “occupational health and safety programme for the meat industry” on Monday. The new framework of regulations takes particular aim at the use of temporary work contacts and agency workers in the meat industry. 

According to the new rules, from January 1, 2021, the slaughtering and processing of animals may only be carried out by employees of the meat packing plant itself. Violations will be punishable with fines of up to 30.000 euros. Working hours will also have to be recorded digitally in future, to make sure no one works longer than the legal limit of 10 hours per shift. There is an exception for smaller butchers’ shops. 

Crackdown prompted by coronavirus outbreaks in slaughterhouses

The meat industry crackdown, spearheaded by Labour Minister Hubertus Heil, came after a number of large coronavirus outbreaks shed renewed light on the substandard conditions faced by workers. Large clusters of coronavirus cases among employees at meat packing plants and slaughterhouses in North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein, Bavaria and Lower Saxony attracted widespread media attention. 

Investigations revealed infected workers, primarily from eastern European countries, living in cramped, unsanitary conditions that made social distancing nearly impossible. Workers in Germany’s meat industry are typically procured via a network of subcontractors and task-specific contracts. This leaves them vulnerable, since these types of contracts allow the company to claim no legal responsibility for them. 

In announcing the changes, Heil said that the coronavirus pandemic had made it clear that working conditions in the meat industry “not only endanger the employees, but the public.” The new regulations will be made into a draft law, which needs to gain parliamentary approval before coming into force. 



Abi Carter

Managing Editor at IamExpat Media. Abi studied German and History at the University of Manchester and has since lived in Berlin, Hamburg and Utrecht, working since 2017 as a writer,...

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