GERMANY, Berlin. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is making sources of infection a top priority. The discussion about the working and living situation of contract workers reaches new dimensions.
At the large slaughterhouses of Müller-Fleisch, Westfleisch, Wiesenhof and Vion in Bad Bramstedt, Birkenfeld, Bogen, Coesfeld and Oer-Erkenschwick, the number of employees who have become infected with the coronavirus at the sites is increasing. Health authorities and politicians are becoming increasingly nervous and sound the alarm, trade unionists point out precarious working and living conditions. Chancellor Angela Merkel now joined the heated debate and announced new regulations for slaughterhouses. Federal Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner also called on the meat industry to take responsibility.
A "topical hour" was held in the Bundestag on Wednesday at the request of the Bündnis 90/Die Grünen faction. It was triggered by the high infection rates of several slaughterhouses in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Schleswig-Holstein. One of the causes for the rapid spread of the dangerous pathogen Sars-CoV-2 among employees is considered to be the working and living conditions. On the one hand, distance rules at the workplace and on the other hand contact restrictions in the living area have come into focus.
As recently as last weekend, North Rhine-Westphalia's Minister of Health Karl Laumann demanded hygiene concepts from slaughterhouse operators, which include the living conditions of the workers and transport from their homes to the slaughterhouse. Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil had added that he wanted to clean up precarious conditions.
The lynchpin is the housing situation. Because there has been a shortage of personnel in this country for years, the companies in the meat industry employ staff on a contract for work and labour basis, mostly from Romania or Bulgaria. Another problem: there is a lack of meaningful information about compliance with labour law regulations in the meat industry.
Employees on a contract for work are accommodated either in their own apartments, in company apartments or in collective accommodation provided by subcontractors. These three variants are subject to different legal requirements and different responsibilities of slaughterhouses, subcontractors or personnel service providers as well as the employees. In the meantime, NRW Health Minister Laumann has also backed out because he has recognized the constitutional right of privacy for a breakthrough in apartments.
Against this background, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in the Bundestag that she would pass necessary amendments. Federal Labour Minister Heil signalled that he would present a concept as early as next Monday. The District Administrator of the Enz district, Bastian Rosenau, explained on ZDF television that he had called on the management of the Müller Group to rethink its business model. The local politician also expects a concept by the beginning of next week. The Württemberg company first had to fight infections among employees in Birkenfeld. Managing director Martin Mueller explained that a "Pandemic Plan 2.0" will be developed by the end of this week in close coordination with the authorities.
The Association of the Meat Industry (VDF) and the Federal Association of the German Meat Industry (BVDF) signalled to the federal government their willingness to talk. Together with Ministers Julia Klöckner (Agriculture), Hubertus Heil (Labour) and Jens Spahn (Health), the VDF would like to "identify concrete starting points". The Association's office stated that it is "open to improvements and advocates uniform implementation throughout Germany". BVDF President Sarah Dhem thinks it makes more sense to differentiate in the heated debate, to look closely and to work out solutions together. It is "important that the companies become aware of their responsibility and do not delegate it to subcontractors".