Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Import cheap workers - export cheap meat

 Many of the workers in the German meat industry come from Eastern Europe.Starvation wages, subcontractors and outsourcing have made conditions difficult for Eastern European workers in the German meat industry. "The entire production process from the slaughtering to the final meat product is the hands of foreign subcontractors,"Szabolcs Sepsi from the counseling center "Faire Mobilität" ("Fair Mobility"), said. "German companies are not responsible for their employees.

A Bulgarian worker suffered a painful accident during his third day on the job at a cutting plant near the German city of Gütersloh. A saw sliced through his protective glove and injured his little finger. Yet no one called a doctor for the 50-year-old. Instead, he was expected to continue working despite the pain. He ended up going to the hospital three days after the accident. He underwent surgery and stayed in the facilty for two days to be treated. He did not receive any help from his employer. Instead, his employer rented out the injured Bulgarian's bed in the workers' accommodation to a new employee. The Bulgarian lost his job and the roof over his head. He was on his trial period and did not even know the name of the subcontractor for whom he was working.

The minimum wage, now 8.75 euros ($9.39) per hour, was implemented in the meat industry in 2014. Nonetheless, employers always try to skirt around it. For example, work hours are calculated incorrectly, fees are charged for sharpening knives or for work uniforms or penalties imposed for supposedly bad results.  At the end of the month, workers may end up with 200 euros less than promised.

Outsourcing contracts is the biggest problem in the German meat industry, explains Matthias Brümmer, director of the Food, Beverages and Catering Industry Trade Union (NGG), - the companies offer very few permanent staff contracts. "The system makes exploitation easy," he said. Brümmer added that such practices offer advantages for meat companies. One of them is a tariff charged under the German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG), from which businesses could be exempt if their energy costs reached 14 percent of gross value added. Personnel costs for contract staff members are part of gross value added, so anyone who outsources staff raises their chances of being exempt from the levy, thus saving money for overhead costs. Outsourced workers are calculated as material costs and not personnel costs.

This helps create cheap German meat that dominates foreign markets. The industry is booming; 1.9 million animals are slaughtered every day in Germany. The 10 largest corporations have a total revenue of 20 billion euros - with low production costs, notes the food union NGG. It only costs 1.5 euros to slaughter a pig if subcontractors are hired. "We import cheap workers and export cheap meat," explains the NGG.

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