The Federal Cabinet launched the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act last week. The legislation is designed to create ‘orderly and safe’ working conditions in the meat industry. It sets out nationwide rules for the control of companies and for the accommodation of employees in other industries.
It also wants to stamp out the widespread use of subcontracting, which remains a common practice in Germany’s meat sector.
According to data from the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT), people employed by subcontractors – primarily migrants - generally work between 48 and 65 hours per week. Meat workers directly employed by companies normally work around 40 hours per week and maximum up to 48 hours. For subcontracted workers, the working day can be up to 16 hours, six days per week, according to the union.
Wage disparities with workers directly employed by meat companies are also evident. Subcontracted workers earn on average 40% to 50% less than meat workers directly employed by meat companies, the union noted.
Housing conditions were also depicted as ‘extremely poor’. “Workers employed by subcontractors frequently live in overcrowded flats with shared bathrooms and with even up to five or six people in one dormitory. Accommodation is provided directly or indirectly by the subcontractor. In other words, the employer is also the landlord,” EFFAT noted in a recent report into abuses.
Federal Minister for Labour Hubertus Heil said it has become obvious that working and living conditions for meat workers are ‘no longer acceptable’.
“We no longer accept 16-hour days and cramped living in shared accommodation,” he insisted.
“We will end the abuse of [subcontracting], introduce more controls and higher fines, have working hours recorded electronically and also set standards for accommodation,” he added.
“In this way, we will ensure that employers have direct responsibility for their people - and cannot duck behind sub-constructions. We will protect employees and end irresponsibility in parts of the meat industry."
The regulation states that from January next year it will be illegal to employ people through subcontractors, with the exception of companies that employ 49 people or less.
Minimum accommodation standards have also been introduced and employers are obliged to inform the responsible authorities about the place of residence and employment of all workers.
Working hours will be switched to digital systems in order to ensure compliance with minimum wage requirements.