We can still clearly recall the coronavirus outbreaks in the meat industry in 2020 and the reports of unacceptable living and working conditions of contractors and temporary workers.
The German Bundestag and Bundesrat reacted to these events by passing the German Health and Safety Control Act. This entered into force on January 1, 2021. The law is not only intended to ensure improved occupational health safety in the meat industry, but it also lays down uniform national rules affecting other industries, including but not limited to the inspection of companies and employees’ accommodation.
One of the law’s key points is that contracts to produce a work (“Werkverträge”) will be prohibited in the meat industry from January 1, 2021. Temporary workers will no longer be allowed to be hired from April 1, 2021. For companies, this means that only permanent staff will be allowed to slaughter animals and butcher meat. Butcher businesses with fewer than 50 employees are excluded from this regulation.
Further Important Points of the German Law on Occupational Safety Control:
- Peaks in customer demand for meat processing can be accommodated by the use of temporary workers under strict conditions and controls based on a collective agreement. This exception regulation is limited to three years. Even in this restricted form, temporary work will then be prohibited from April 2024.
- The German Workplaces Ordinance will be extended by the regulation on how communal accommodation for employees have to be furnished. This also applies to accommodation away from the company premises.
- Companies will be inspected more frequently by the relevant federal states’ occupational health and safety authorities in order to safeguard employee rights in occupational health and safety.
- Employers in the meat industry are obliged to electronically record the start and end times of the workers’ daily working hours. Violations can be punished with fines of up to EUR 30,000. Butcher businesses are excluded from this regulation.
Particularly in the meat industry, contracts for a work (“Werkverträge”) were very commonplace. Time and time again, audits by occupational health and safety authorities reveal violations of the law. In some cases, temporary or contractor workers worked for 16 hours at a time or had portions of their wages withheld to pay for rent and protective clothing.
The legislators hope to now put a stop to the abuse of contracts to produce a work (“Werkvertrag”). Whether it is permissible to only bar one specific industry from entering into temporary employment contracts or contracts to produce a work (“Werkverträge”) or is controversial. Until now, however, the German Federal Constitutional Court has already rejected several applications for provisional orders to prevent the law from entering into force.
For now, the law has entered into force as planned and affected companies must implement the regulations. However, further lawsuits contesting this law are anticipated.