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Eurofound's EU PolicyWatch collates information on the responses of government and social partners to the COVID-19 crisis, the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, as well as gathering examples of company practices aimed at mitigating the social and economic impacts.

Factsheet for measure DE-2020-36/1591 Updated – measures in Germany

Integrating outsourced workers at Tönnies

Integration irregulär Beschäftigter beiTönnies

Country Germany , applies regionally

    • – DEA NORDRHEIN-WESTFALEN
Time period Open ended, started on 01 September 2020
Context COVID-19
Type Company practices
Category Protection of workers, adaptation of workplace
– Well-being of workers
Author Birgit Kraemer (Hans Boeckler Foundation) and Eurofound
Measure added 10 December 2020 (updated 21 January 2022)

Background information

Tönnies is the biggest German meat processing company. The German government classified Tönnies as an essential service/ a business of systemic relevance on 23 March. Tönnies management created a pandemic crisis management team as early as 27 February 2020, and started an information campaign among workers about proper hand washing and use of protective equipment to avoid infections with COVID-19. Among other things, the company offered workers an information hotline to answer questions related to the pandemic (from 10 March), arranged teleworking for all workers whose tasks can be performed from home (16 March 2020), adapted the company canteen to enable social distancing (3 April 2020) and installed body temperature scans at the production site entries (9 April 2020). These measures did not prevent the reporting of a high number of infections among Tönnies workers in April and May. The Tönnies site in Gütersloh was forced to temporarily close down after 400 out of 500 tests among people working in the plant came back positive. A public debate about Tönnies workers' employment, working and living conditions followed.

The case sparked debates on better protection of workers in the meat processing industry and. more generally, of the working conditions and collective accomodations of foreign workers. In result, in late December 2020 the new Occupational safety and health inspection act was released.

Content of measure

The Tönnies Group published a Action Programme (Corona Sofortprogramm) on 20 July, consisting of twenty-five actions aimed to improve the company's pandemic response, workers' employment and living conditions and animal welfare. With regards to employment and living conditions, three actions are most relevant. First, the company decided to transfer 1,000 self-employed workers into regular employment until the end of September. Second, the company decided to transfer all contracts with self-employed workers ( Werkverträge ) and temporary agency workers in the central meat production process (from slaughter to meat processing) into regular employment contracts until the end of the year 2020. Third, Tönnies decided to integrate workers' housing allocation and management into the company and this way directly provide suitable housing with clear standards to all employees.

Updates

The following updates to this measure have been made after it came into effect.

01 June 2021

After the entry into force of the occupational health and safety control act (Arbeitsschutzkontrollgesetz) for the meat industry, the sectoral trade union NGG and the employers in the meat industry agreed on a new sector-wide minimum wage which is set above the statutory minimum wage. This agreement is considered as another important step for better working conditions in the meat industry.

Use of measure

This is data obtained from the company website. By 1 September, Tönnies had moved 1,000 workers into regular employment contracts who had formerly been working on irregular contracts ( Werkverträge ). Remaining self-employment is planned to be transferred into regular employment by the end of the year. This way the company preemptively adapts employment conditions to new regulation coming into force in January 2021: the new law ( Arbeitsschutzkontrollgesetz in der Fleischindustrie ) bans self-employment and temporary agency work in large meat processing plants from 2021, though exceptions are still possible for a transition period of three years. Also by 1 September, the company provided rented apartments for 400 of the 1000 newly employed workers. Additional housing is being created for workers planned to be integrated into regular employment contracts. (The WSI research team will try to provide an update on implementation in January).

Contents

  • Work organisation

Target groups

Workers Businesses Citizens
Workers in non-standard forms of employment
Migrants or refugees in employment
Workers in essential services
Applies to all businesses Does not apply to citizens

Actors and funding

Actors Funding
Company / Companies
Companies

Social partners

Social partners' role in designing the measure and form of involvement:

Trade unions Employers' organisations
Role No involvement No involvement
Form Not applicable Not applicable

Social partners' role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment phase:

  • No involvement
  • Main level of involvement: Company level

Involvement

  1. Company management took all decisions alone, though under pressure from legislators and public opinion.
  2. Social partner organisations were not involved.
  3. Trade unions contributed through public campaigns against irregular employment and indecent working and living conditions in the meat processing industry. Government regulation created a shadow-of-the-law effect that incentivized self-regulation at Tönnies.

Views and reactions

The sectoral trade union NGG has criticized self-regulation at Tönnies to be "smokes and mirrors" and demanded a rigorous implementation of the new regulation banning self-employment in the meat processing industry. Source:

Sectors and occupations

    • Economic area Sector (NACE level 2)
      C - Manufacturing C10 Manufacture of food products

This case is not occupation-specific.

Sources

Citation

Eurofound (2020), Integrating outsourced workers at Tönnies, measure DE-2020-36/1591 (measures in Germany), EU PolicyWatch, Dublin, https://static.eurofound.europa.eu/covid19db/cases/DE-2020-36_1591.html

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Disclaimer: This information has not been subject to the full Eurofound evaluation, editorial and publication process.