Germany is currently enduring a nasty new outbreak of coronavirus cases that are stemming from the country’s massive meat processing industry. The industry itself is finding itself under extreme scrutiny after more than 1,500 workers became infected at a family-owned slaughterhouse in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Officials reported this Tuesday that 1,553 workers at the meat-packing plant have tested positive for Covid-19, which is 200 more individuals compared to Sunday’s numbers. The plant itself is owned by Germany’s Tönnies Group and is located in the west part of the country, prompting leaders to reinstate lockdown restrictions until at least the end of June.
So far daycare centers, bars, gyms, restaurants, and schools within the district have closed down after reopening a few weeks ago thanks to Germany’s initial handling of the virus. The Robert Koch Institute, a public health service that has been taking coronavirus data throughout the past few months, has reported that the spike in Germany’s overall coronavirus cases can be linked directly to the plant in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Now, many plants owned by the Tönnies group are under fire after multiple coronavirus outbreaks have occurred among lower-wage communities; most of these factories are run by low-wage employees. Germany in general has been fairly successful in fighting the coronavirus when compared to other parts of the world, so it’s especially disturbing that citizens with a lower socioeconomic status are being neglected by a country that’s been clearly more than equipped to combat this pandemic.
Clemens Tönnies, a managing partner for the company, recently took to Twitter where he apologized for the outbreak and claimed the company will be taking full responsibility. The company will also be funding widespread testing for Covid-19 to compensate the local community that’s been impacted by the factory outbreak.
Tönnies has about 16,500 employees worldwide, and in general averages an annual revenue of $7 billion. The company produces about 850 tons of frozen and fresh meat every single day and is the biggest pork producer in Germany.
Generally speaking, the coronavirus pandemic has greatly impacted the world’s meat processing industries/food industries. Workers for these companies are often in close quarters and working for minimum wage; meaning they’re forced to stay employed in a unhygienic and potentially life-threatening work environment so that they can barely make ends meet. In the US, thousands of factory workers have tested positive for Covid-19 and dozens have unfortunately died.
According to German labor union NGG, “70% to 80% of Tönnies’ 7,000 factory workers are employed through subcontractors and made to work long hours. At some meatpacking plants, staff work 12 to 14 hours a day but only get paid for eight hours,” NGG spokesman Jonas Bohl said.
200,000 German citizens work within the meat processing industry, about a third of those workers are foreigners. The German government has responded to this massive outbreak by announcing they would create new legislation to protect factory workers more; this would include banning the use of subcontractors and doubling fines for breaching any labor laws. Tönnies has also failed to provide German authorities with the addresses of all their infected employees to help officials better trace those who could have potentially been exposed. In total Germany has recorded almost 200,000 cases of Covid-19 with around 9,200 deaths. For now, only time will tell how much more the German government enforces these factories to better protect their employees from potential viral exposure.