The meat industry: an exploitative system

In June it emerged that more than 1,500 workers at Germany's largest meat processing company Tönnies, most of them from Eastern Europe, have been infected with coronavirus. In May a slaughterhouse had already been closed down after a spike in infections among employees. Commentators examine the highly questionable working conditions of Eastern European employees at German plants and the mechanisms behind this situation.

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Digi 24 (RO) /

Why is Romania remaining silent?

Around 1,000 of the infected Tönnies workers are said to come from Romania. Commenting in Digi 24, Mihai Tudose, MEP and former prime minister of Romania, calls on the Romanian government to do more for its citizens:

“From the dangerous and humiliating circumstances in which the seasonal workers left Cluj airport for Germany to the accommodation and the work itself, where neither social rights nor the minimum wage nor even basic health standards are respected - the government has always been passive, and its actions merely cosmetic. Certainly, the scale of the problem is overwhelming for the authorities of an individual country. For this reason the countries concerned should start cooperating immediately and measures should be coordinated at the European level to create appropriate working conditions for European citizens who work in other EU countries.”

Contributors (RO) /

Unfair subcontractor model

A system which encourages exploitative working conditions is to blame, lawyer Alina Dobre writes in Contributors:

“This scandal has put employment agencies in the limelight, but still no one in Europe has taken sides against these subcontractors that sabotage workers' wage rights. ... They push salaries below minimum standards (wage dumping), and this goes on in almost all sectors, especially in Germany, affecting seasonal workers in the farming sector to IT engineers. These companies earn money for work they have not done, at the expense of those who actually do it. German companies, including their foreign subcontractors, prefer this model because it means they can 'employ' workers indirectly while reducing costs and increasing profits.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The law of mass society

Coronavirus outbreaks have also occurred at five large meat processing plants in northern Italy. La Stampa takes the opportunity to bring up the suffering of the animals in the meat industry:

“The animal farms are places of torture where heartbreaking screams echo, with dirty, overcrowded cages and tormented piglets that are kicked away from their mothers and driven into tight enclosures. The animals go to the slaughterhouses to die. ... Anyone who has ever entered one of these places where the pigs are rounded up will never forget the image of the mud in the corridors through which men wearing knee-high boots wade, the moans that drown out the grunting, the cries of pain screamed into the void. ... It is the law of mass society, which must feed everyone.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

The weakest in the system worst affected

Gazeta Wyborcza describes the working conditions that favour infection:

“Many of those infected are Romanians and citizens of other Eastern European countries who for years have been providing the cheap labour that keeps the German meat industry up and running. Strict hygiene regulations apply in slaughterhouses. But these people work in cold rooms, and the virus survives longer at low temperatures. What's more, they can't maintain a safe distance from their co-workers. The worst thing, however, is that at the end of the day the guest workers go back to shared dormitories where they live in the most humble conditions. Not only is physical distancing difficult, but also complying with hygiene regulations.”

Webcafé (BG) /

Time to tackle this problem

The corona crisis has exposed a long-standing injustice, writes Webcafé:

“In the slaughterhouses the prevailing opinion is that the slaughter work is too hard and unattractive for Germans, which forces the butchers to hire Romanians, Bulgarians and Poles who have proven over the years to be patient, hard-working and unproblematic labourers. ... Now the coronavirus infections are bringing the subject back to the surface. Despite all Berlin's good intentions, Germany still has a problem with racism and exploitation. Will something be done about it this time, or are the cheap meat and vegetables that 'pick themselves' simply too good to give up even after the current crisis?”