Economy

Covid-19 spreads in slaughterhouses – criticism of precarious accommodation

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In a very short space of time, four slaughterhouses have developed into foci of infection for the novel corona virus.

The trade union food, enjoyment, restaurants (NGG) sees a complicity of the meat industry. But they are not the only ones who have been criticizing for a long time.

There would be precarious conditions when housing workers from abroad, sometimes with nine or ten people in an apartment.

By Claus Haffert, dpa

German slaughterhouses are increasingly developing into corona hotspots. In April the disease broke out in a meat product plant in Birkenfeld (Baden-Württemberg). Slaughterhouses in Coesfeld and Oer-Erkenschwick (North Rhine-Westphalia) and Bad Bramstedt (Schleswig-Holstein) are now affected.

The meat industry has been criticized for many years because of the working and accommodation conditions. Industry experts are therefore not surprised that there are now so many infections there.

Nine to ten people in one apartment

The Food, Enjoyment, Catering Union (NGG) is convinced that housing workers – many from Eastern and Southeastern Europe, many employed by subcontractors – favors the spread of the virus. Head of Unit Thomas Bernhard says: “They live too close to each other.” Too small apartments, too many people in them, too few sanitary rooms – “a huge problem”. Dominique John from the DGB “Fair Mobility” initiative says of a case in Saxony-Anhalt: “Old apartment blocks were rented and nine to ten people were accommodated in one apartment.”

Protective measures are taken in the factories – “But it is quickly forgotten behind the factory gate,” complains Bernhard. This is also due to inadequate information provided by their foremen. This year, Eastern European slaughterers could not have returned home because of the corona restrictions over Easter. “That’s why they spent a lot of time together.” In addition, they are often “driven to work and to accommodation in crowded buses and bullis”.

The Catholic priest Peter Kossen, who has been campaigning for better working and living conditions for migrant workers for years, sees his fears confirmed. In April, he therefore wrote an open letter to Lower Saxony’s Prime Minister Stephan Weil (SPD) and NRW Labor Minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU). In it he called for better protection in meat factories and other factories. “Coesfeld will not be the last case,” he warns. “The workers in the slaughterhouses are exhausted because of the hard work and therefore particularly vulnerable.”

Criticism of the industry does not stop

The meat industry has long been criticized. Only at the beginning of this year did Laumann submit a report on controls in the NRW slaughterhouses. Conclusion: “Inadequate deductions from wages, poor occupational health and safety and unworthy accommodations”. The industry is characterized by “difficult to understand company structures, the frequent use of contractors and the predominant employment of workers from Eastern Europe”. The slaughterhouse operator “takes no legal responsibility,” the report says.

However, the industry is resisting accusations of poorly housing workers. “With very few exceptions,” this criticism has no substance, the meat industry emphasized last October. Germany’s largest meat processor Tönnies warned of the new cases against placing the entire industry under general suspicion.

Little is known about the Coesfeld case

Little is known about the living conditions of the employees in Coesfeld. They are “probably more decentralized than in large units,” said a spokesman for the Münster district government. Most of the foreigners working in the slaughterhouse in Bad Bramstedt live on the site of a barracks in a shared accommodation. The country ordered that the meat industry’s collective accommodations for temporary workers and those for harvest helpers be checked for hygiene.

So far, far too little control has been carried out, says the left Bundestag member Hubertus Zdebel. He referred to the official reply to a question from his group. According to this, the number of company visits by health and safety authorities in NRW fell by more than a third between 2008 and 2018. On average, a company is only checked every 25 years.

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