Germany to reform meat industry after corona outbreak exposes abuses

The German government has decided to take swift action against the meat industry, after coronavirus outbreaks at several slaughterhouses led to accusations that eastern European workers are being exploited so that Germans can enjoy cheap meat.

The draft law agreed upon by the government on Wednesday will force slaughter houses to quit the practise of hiring eastern Europeans on short term contracts and will impose heavy fines on companies that fail to comply.

The bill was rapidly drafted by Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and will come into law at the beginning of next year after it has been passed by the Bundestag.

Heil faced pressure to act after Romanian workers at slaughterhouses across the country tested positive with the virus, with at least one likely to have died as a result.

READ ALSO: New coronavirus update at meat processing plant sparks concern across Germany

Trade unions say that the eastern Europeans are the victims of appalling living conditions at the mass accommodation provided for them by sub-contractors hired by the meat packing industry. Furthermore they lament a practise of meat companies contracting out work to subcontractors so that they cannot be held liable when abuses are exposed.

“Sub-contracts are the root of this evil and should be abolished,” trade union boss Anja Piel told DPA. She added that the living and working conditions in the meat industry had been a disaster for years.

That’s a viewpoint also taken by the Green party, who want to impose a minimum price on meat in the supermarket and use public money to help the meat industry go organic.

“Coupled with higher animal welfare standards and binding labelling of husbandry and origin, an animal welfare levy can also help to finance the conversion to species-appropriate animal husbandry”, Green Party leader Anton Hofreiter said. 

Others on the left are more uneasy about increasing the costs of meat, as they fear it would turn it into a luxury good no longer affordable to their grass-root voters.

 “I do not want a social division over the Schnitzel”, Left Party leader Dietmar Bartsch said.

Announcing the new measures, Heil (SPD) said that it was time to “clean up and take action in this area” as he promised plans to impose fines of up to €30,000 on miscreants. 

The meat industry has hit back at the Labour minister though, saying the the regulation would drive the meat processing industry abroad.

READ ALSO: Explained: Why Germany is in a bitter row over meat

Accusing Heil of lacking any technical or factual knowledge, Heike Harstick, chairwoman of the Meat Industry Association, said short-term contracts were an essential part of the industry and claimed that the whole industry had been labelled as guilty due to corona outbreaks at a small number of slaughterhouses. 

“For many manual jobs, such as in the meat industry, you can no longer find workers on the German market.” Harstick warned that the ban would lead to “large parts of meat production moving abroad”.

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.