The COVID-19 outbreak at a meat processing plant owned by Tönnies Holding Group in the German city of Gütersloh has sparked outrage across the country. As of June 24, around 1,500 people were infected at the plant, which was closed down after the outbreak was reported on June 17. The plant employs nearly 6,500 people, mainly migrant workers, and is the largest meat processing facility in Germany. The authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia re-imposed the lockdown in Gütersloh and Warendorf districts on Tuesday, and have tested around 3,000 of the plant’s employees so far.
DW.com reported that Gütersloh mayor Henning Schulz slammed meat processor group Tönnies for the poor working conditions at the plant which led to the outbreak. The mayor told DW.com, “my feelings are somewhere between anger, sadness and exhaustion. At the moment we are giving the maximum human effort we can put in to solve the situation.”
“I’m angry with the company, Tönnies. I’m angry with the system, behind it, I’m angry with the system of sub-sub-sub contractors which is totally intransparent,” Schulz said.
Die Linke (The Left) claimed that the incumbent Christian Democratic Union (CDU) received almost EUR 174,000 as contributions from Tönnies since 1998. “This doesn’t sound like much, but even small gifts get the friendship,” said Die Linke.
“Strict regulations and controls must be ensured in the meat industry for the benefit of employees,” it added.
It has become evident that endless sub-contracts have resulted in zero accountability of employers for the working conditions in their factories, the plight of workers and their rights. Widespread outrage has forced Tönnies to announce the termination of subcontracts and ensure direct contracts, along with the creation of adequate living space for the employees of the group. However, Unsere Zeit reported that despite these developments, Tönnies is refusing a collective agreement with its employees.
As of June 25, around 7,478 active COVID-19 were reported in Germany.