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Occupational Health and Safety Control Act: A Threat to Competition

Federal Labour Minister Hubertus Heil wants to eliminate abuses in large slaughterhouses with the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act. In addition, a so-called prohibition of cooperation is envisaged, as well as strict requirements for the working and living conditions of employees. These had become the focus of public attention in the course of partly massive corona outbreaks at large slaughterhouses and cutting plants such as Tönnies, Vion or Westfleisch. But with the regulations, the law hits medium-sized sausage and poultry producers in particular – which can severely affect the competitiveness of these companies. Specifically, contracts for work and services are to be banned from January 2021 and, finally, the use of temporary workers from April.

More controls – more difficulties for the industry

Friedrich-Otto Ripke, President of the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry (ZDG), sees no hope for the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act. It massively threatens the competitiveness of the industry and thus the existence of chicken and turkey farmers in Germany. At the beginning of the year, there was still concern about the supply of poultry meat and eggs due to the pandemic. But now the support and appreciation of the politicians is lagging behind. Therefore, the ZDG has written an open letter to the decision-makers at federal and state level: It demands the protection of domestic production of poultry meat.

The bill makes the following changes next year:

  • more controls
  • electronic time recording
  • Minimum standards for accommodation
  • Prohibition of work contracts and temporary agency work in the core areas of slaughtering, cutting and meat processing

Craft enterprises employing fewer than 49 persons are exempt from this regulation. The aim of the law is to improve the working and living conditions of employees in the German meat industry. This goal is also supported – but not at any price.

Occupational health and safety control law makes it easier to get a head start abroad

“It cannot be in the spirit of a responsible policy if cheap imports of chicken and turkey meat from Eastern Europe displace German animal welfare products because of significantly lower production costs,” said Ripke. However, this would inevitably happen if the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act is passed in its current draft. Over-regulation could then become a threat to thousands of businesses that rely on temporary work. The increasing workload – especially during the barbecue season – cannot be easily compensated without them. Finally, fresh produce cannot be pre-produced and stored. Foreign suppliers can then gratefully accept the space. The corresponding supply contracts are simply more profitable due to lower production costs – and put domestic farms out of business.

Unilateral decisions with far-reaching consequences

“The politicians’ approach to the Occupational Health and Safety Control Act is more like a tribunal than a proper legislative process,” grumbles the industry representative. Because in the current deliberations of the Bundestag and the corresponding exclusions they are not even heard. In addition to the fears for the future, there are other consequences: the law does animals and consumers no favours either. The meat is produced much cheaper abroad – under much worse animal welfare standards. By way of comparison, the stocking density for chickens in Germany is 35 kg per square metre. In Eastern Europe it is 42 kg. Domestic butchers and marketers can no longer keep up. They need fewer animals. And the breeders have to give up.

The ZDG also hopes for support from the sausage producers in the butcher’s trade, as losses are also feared here. In addition to the open letter, further legal action by affected companies and associations is not ruled out.

Occupational Health and Safety Control Act: What’s next?

Between the ZDG’s open letter and further lawsuits based on violations of constitutional and fundamental law: the Labor Control Protection Act holds a lot of potential for discussion. Don’t miss out on developments: subscribe to our newsletter and read about the latest topics relating to the food industry. We look forward to hearing from you – even if you have further questions.