May 15, 2020 / 10:39 AM / 9 days ago

Germany to ban subcontracting in meatpacking industry after virus outbreaks

FILE PHOTO: Medical personnel is seen as employees of meat marketer "Westfleisch" wait in line to get tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a provisional testing center at the premises of a "Westfleisch" meat factory, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Hamm, Germany, May 10, 2020. REUTERS/Leon Kuegeler

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany will order meatpacking plants to stop using subcontractors and to improve hygiene standards in the workplace and accommodations, after more than 600 cases of coronavirus among workers in the industry, a draft government proposal said.

Labour Minister Hubertus Heil of the Social Democrats, junior coalition partners of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, plans to present the proposals to Germany’s “corona cabinet” on Monday. Reuters reviewed a draft.

Recent outbreaks have shone a spotlight on a sector that relies on workers from Eastern European countries, especially Romania, often hired by subcontractors and living in cramped accommodation near processing plants.

“Insufficient hygiene and a lack of safety measures, especially in accommodation and during transport, can lead to infections among workers and subsequent dangerous outbreaks,” the labour ministry’s draft proposal said.

Infections at slaughterhouses in several German states have been accompanied by reports that social distancing and hygiene standards were ignored, it added.

Most recently, an outbreak at a meat producer in the western German town of Coesfeld made headlines after mass testing revealed that more than a quarter of the 1,000 workers had contracted the coronavirus.

Restrictions on shops and restaurants remain in place for now in the district that is home to the plant, until the number of new infections recedes.

Labour Minister Heil is due to meet next week with his Romanian counterpart, Violeta Alexandru.

Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Peter Graff

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