BERLIN (AP) — The German government agreed Wednesday to ban the use of subcontractors and increase fines for breaches of labor law in the meat industry starting next year following a series of coronavirus outbreaks linked to abattoirs in recent weeks.
Clusters of COVID-19 cases among slaughterhouse workers across Germany highlighted grim conditions in the industry, which relies heavily on migrant workers from Eastern Europe.
Labor Minister Hubertus Heil said problems in the industry were “structural” and required deep-rooted reform, noting that in some slaughterhouses up to 80% of workers are employed by subcontractors, or even sub-subcontractors.
The Cabinet plans to submit a bill that will require companies to directly employ any workers involved in slaughtering and meat processing from Jan. 1, 2021, though there will be exceptions for small artisanal businesses.
Ministers also agreed to double the current maximum fine of 15,000 euros ($16,425) if companies are found in breach of labor rules.
Many workers in Germany’s industrial slaughterhouses are migrants from Romania and other low-income countries who live in shared housing and are transported to abattoirs in cramped shuttle buses, exposing them to greater risk of infection.