Germany tightens abattoir rules after coronavirus outbreaks

BERLIN, May 20 (Reuters) - Germany has tightened up rules on abattoirs, banning the subcontracting of meatpacking work through agencies after a rash of coronavirus outbreaks, government sources said.

The cases has caused outrage in the home countries of the sector’s predominately foreign workers.

The new rules were agreed on Wednesday after more than 600 cases were reported of workers contracting the disease, the government sources said.

The epidemic has thrown a spotlight on the German food industry’s reliance on migrant labour, particularly from Romania, where anger at the deaths of two harvest workers dying of the coronavirus and the mass infections led the country’s labour minister to drive 16 hours through locked-down Europe to Berlin for a fact-finding mission.

Under the new rules, people working in abattoirs must be employed by the company itself, ending the practice of hiring many of the sector’s 200,000 workers through long chains of subcontracting agencies which pushes down final wages.

Workplace inspections will also be intensified, and local inspectors will be given new powers to check workers’ accommodation.

Fines payable by companies in the sector for violations of labour law will be doubled to 30,000 euros. (Reporting by Holger Hansen, Writing by Thomas Escritt, Editing by Angus MacSwan)