GERMANY, Bonn. In view of the high incidence of corona cases in slaughterhouses, the meat industry is coming under heavy criticism because of the working and accommodation conditions for the contract workers, many of whom come from Eastern Europe.
The chairman of the Green parliamentary group in the Bundestag, Dr. Anton Hofreiter, recently called for "more frequent and better controls of the companies and more consistent accountability of the main responsible persons in the corporations". The Green spokeswoman for employee rights, Beate Müller-Gemmeke, today expressed the view that even in normal times, employees in the meat industry in many companies would be "ruthlessly exploited and crammed into far too small accommodations". Now "this organized irresponsibility" additionally threatens the health of all, said Müller-Gemmeke.
Meanwhile, Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil called on his state colleagues to monitor more strictly the health and safety at work of seasonal workers in the meat industry.
The chief executive of the Association of the German Meat Industry (VDF), Dr. Heike Harstick, however, stated to the "Süddeutsche Zeitung" that "not primarily the working conditions are to blame for the corona outbreaks". As a critical infrastructure, production could not be stopped and work continued to be done to ensure the supply of food. This could lead to infections.
The association warned against tougher conditions. If, for example, individual housing was made compulsory and higher rents for housing were incurred, Harstick said "many businesses would no longer be competitive". Parts of the industry would then migrate. If there were corona cases in plants, it would be better to quarantine them than to close them. Otherwise, supply shortages could arise and pigs might have to be killed, as in the USA, because farmers would no longer find buyers.
As a result of the extensive testing of workers in meat plants, the number of corona infections detected has risen over the weekend. According to the district of Segeberg, 128 employees have now been tested positive at the Vion plant in Bad Bramstedt; at Westfleisch in Coesfeld, according to the district there, 230 of the approximately 1,200 employees have tested positive. Further tests at other slaughterhouses in Schleswig-Holstein and North Rhine-Westphalia will be carried out this week.
Over the weekend, the Administrative Court in Münster rejected an urgent appeal against the closure of the Coesfeld plant, which had been ordered by the state government up to and including May 17. The plant had become a "considerable epidemiological source of danger" "due to obviously insufficient precautions", not only for the workforce, the reasoning stated.