COVID-19 outbreak in German slaughterhouse with thousands of Romanian workers

According to information from German and Romanian press, the largest recent outbreak of coronavirus within the EU is in Germany, at the Tönnies slaughterhouse in the town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück in North Rhine-Westphalia. Tönnies is the biggest European meat processing plant and employs many Central-European workers, including 6,000 Romanians. Already more than 1,000 workers have tested positive for coronavirus, half of whom are Romanian, and 7,000 people are now in quarantine.

The residences of the slaughterhouse employees have been quarantined on Sunday. However, some Eastern European workers had allegedly already fled their accommodation earlier, with several Romanians among them, wrote hotnews.ro referring to German newspaper of Bild. Others wanted to book a flight home after testing negative for coronavirus. “We have the impression here that the number of residents has significantly decreased,” a worker told Bild. The Tönnies slaughterhouse had been closed for 14 days, and Bundeswehr soldiers are helping with mass-testing of the workers.

Missing addresses

Representatives of the Tönnies company made a public statement on Saturday. The company’s general manager, Clemens Tönnies, claimed that some employment/outsourcing agencies had tried to block the company from obtaining the contract-workers’ personal details. He added that as an employer, they are only allowed to keep a record of the name, gender and date of birth of the workers. According to him, data protection should be secondary when it comes to fighting a pandemic, and it is no longer just about their factory but about people in the whole area and keeping the virus from spreading elsewhere.

The largest outbreak in the EU

The area’s European Parliament representative, CDU member Peter Liese, called for protection measures within a 30-kilometer radius.

“In my opinion, this outbreak can no longer be limited by pursuing individual cases. We need measures for the population, not only in the Gütersloh district, but also at least 30 kilometers around the factory,”

– Liese said to the German press, adding that it is currently the largest outbreak of coronavirus in the EU.

80 percent of German meat industry workers are migrants

The German meat industry employs around 128,000 people, and trade unions estimate that up to 80 percent of them are migrants, mostly from Eastern and Southern European countries, who are not employed directly by German companies but work through subcontractors. For example at Tönnies, Germany’s largest meatpacking facility, around half of its 6,500 employees are hired by subcontractors. The company is a market leader in the German pork manufacturing industry, with a 30.3 percent market share, according to the Syndicate of German Pig Keepers (ISN), when measured by the number of animals slaughtered. Around 20,000 pigs are slaughtered and butchered each day on the company’s premises. (hotnews.ro ; dw.com)


Title image: A security guard walks in front of the Tönnies, Europe’s biggest slaughterhouse, in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, Germany on Thursday, June 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Author: Attila Szoó