A new draft bill may protect slaughterhouse workers from abuse in Germany.
Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet approved a draft bill that would ban the use of subcontractors and agency workers in the meat industry. The new law, which targets major meat processors, was drafted following coronavirus outbreaks in several slaughterhouses.
The new bill stipulates that only direct employees at any slaughterhouse with 50 or more workers can process animals. Additionally, a digital logging system would ensure that employees do not work longer than the legal limit of 10 hours per shift.
Labor Minister Hubertus Heil, author of the bill, praised its introduction as a “good day for workers’ protection.”
‘I Heard Colleagues Crying at Night’
Many slaughterhouse workers are migrants from Eastern Europe. The use of subcontractors in German slaughterhouses has allowed meat companies to cut costs and sidestep employee welfare.
Speaking to German publication DW, an anonymous former slaughterhouse worker from Romania said: “We were seldom finished at the end of what was supposed to be an eight-hour shift. It was often 12 hours, or even 13. We wrote the overtime down, but it never appeared on the pay slip.”
They added that conditions were “very cold and damp” and morale was low.
“I heard colleagues crying at night in our accommodation because they were in such pain; their hands were completely swollen,” they said. “But we would encourage each other, and tell each other to hang in there.”
Coronavirus Outbreaks in Slaughterhouses
In late June, German authorities implemented new lockdown measures in a western region following an uptick in infections linked to slaughterhouses. More than 1,550 people at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck tested positive for the virus, according to the Associated Press.
Working conditions in U.S. slaughterhouses have faced similar scrutiny. Outbreaks ravaged processing plants owned by major meat producers, including Tyson Foods, Cargill, and JBS.
In April, President Donald Trump signed an executive order invoking the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, allowing meat processing plants to remain open without liability should workers become infected with coronavirus. The Trump administration also approved faster slaughterhouse line speeds.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker recently introduced a bill to protect slaughterhouse workers from conditions that do not allow for proper social distancing. According to The National Employment Law Project, plants that implemented faster line speeds became coronavirus hotspots.
Not all were happy about Germany’s new draft bill. Otto Ripke, president of the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry, the umbrella organization for the German poultry industry, said that the new bill would endanger the meat industry. He added that the law would drive up prices. Heil called the concerns “fairy tales,” adding that if prices did go up, it would warrant a discussion about poultry industry profit margins.