German abattoir in coronavirus outbreak stops sub-contracting workers

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HAMBURG (Reuters) – A German abattoir and meat packing group at the centre of a coronavirus outbreak said on Friday it would hire 1,000 workers and stop using sub-contractors for animal slaughtering and meat processing.

The Toennies slaughterhouse and meat packing plant at Rheda-Wiedenbrueck in western Germany has been closed for three weeks after more than 1,500 workers tested positive for COVID-19. This caused a lockdown for 600,000 people in the surrounding Guetersloh region which was lifted this week.

German slaughterhouses have faced criticism for the widespread use of subcontracted migrant workers from eastern Europe, with cramped accommodation suspected of contributing to coronavirus outbreaks in abattoirs.

Toennies said it was starting a pilot project to directly employ 1,000 staff in slaughtering and meat packing by Sept. 30 as part a plan to end all sub-contracting in slaughtering in meat processing by the end of this year.

The changes are the first in a series, and show the Toennies group is taking the demands made on it seriously and working at speed “to meet the demands of politics and society”, said managing partner Clemens Toennies in a statement.

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil has condemned the system of “sub-sub-sub-contracting” in abattoirs – where subcontractors sometimes relied on other subcontractors to get staff – and is introducing a new law compelling meatpackers to employ staff directly.

Toennies’ Rheda-Wiedenbrueck plant normally slaughters and processes 12% to 14% of Germany’s pigs and is one of 19 meatpacking plants in the country owned by the group.

Toennies faced criticism from German authorities in June as it was unable to immediately provide addresses of sub-contracted workers after the coronavirus outbreak at the plant.

The Guetersloh local government authority is still in negotiations about a hygiene plan with the plant, which has provisionally been ordered to close up to July 17.

(Reporting by Michael Hogan, editing by Mark Potter)

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