Come to reap

After the corona outbreaks at Tönnies, there was a lot of criticism of the working conditions of Romanian seasonal workers. Now Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) is traveling to the country – with good news.

Of the total of 33.4 million employees who are subject to social security contributions in Germany, just under 4.2 million come from abroad.  One of the largest groups are the Poles with 440,000 workers, followed by the Romanians with just under 390,000.

Et were unusually clear words that the Romanian ambassador in Berlin addressed to the German government at the end of June. In view of the corona outbreaks in meat companies like Tönnies, Emil Hurezeanu warned that the working and living conditions of the many Romanian workers in the German agriculture and meat industry “urgently need to be improved”. His country expects the federal government to implement legal plans to regulate the industry more closely. Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) is now traveling to Romania on a two-day visit to announce to the Prime Minister there, the Foreign Minister and the Labor Minister: Enforcement.

In his luggage he has the Occupational Safety and Health Control Act, which the federal cabinet passed at the end of July. Companies in the meat industry are therefore no longer allowed to use temporary workers in their production processes. Likewise, no employees are allowed to work for them who are employed by other employers under contracts for work and services. In the event of violations, companies face fines of up to 500,000 euros.

But is that enough to cool down the sometimes rather heated atmosphere between the two countries? The law of salvation still has to go through the parliamentary procedure. Especially in circles of the Union there has recently been criticism of the requirements for companies. In addition, the law only affects work contracts in the meat industry. Romanian workers, who help out in agriculture as seasonal workers – i.e. for a limited period of time – play an at least as important role.

Corona outbreak on the vegetable farm

Around two thirds of the foreign harvest workers in Germany come from Romania. They grow strawberries, asparagus or cucumbers and collect the harvests again. Recently, there were hardly any German workers for the physically demanding work, but for many Romanians these jobs are comparatively well paid and attractive. In normal years, up to 300,000 seasonal workers come to Germany, mainly from Eastern Europe. When Federal Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (CSU) suddenly imposed an entry ban on seasonal workers at the beginning of the pandemic, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture was appalled – after all, the food supply was tense in the first few weeks. The entry stop was quickly relaxed again subject to conditions. But it also quickly became apparent that the working conditions, despite health checks upon entry and less cramped accommodation, mean that the virus can spread too quickly.

After a corona outbreak at the end of July on a vegetable farm in Mamming, the district of Dingolfing-Landau became one of the corona hotspots in Germany – to the chagrin of Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU), who is known to be particularly cautious in fighting the virus. Now the state government wants to control compliance with the protection and hygiene concepts in farms more strictly. The fact that these were not adhered to is said to have been a problem for the course of the epidemic in Mamming. “100 tests have already been carried out across Bavaria,” said the minister responsible, Melanie Huml (CSU).

Labor Minister Hubertus Heil will visit a production cooperative in the Romanian capital Bucharest in addition to the members of the government that grows tomatoes and cucumbers. Many of the employees there have also worked in Germany. The talks should also focus on how working conditions in Europe can be improved as a whole. “There must be no second-class employees in Germany and the EU,” said Heil before his departure. As part of the German EU Council Presidency, he is promoting, among other things, an EU framework for minimum wages and the national basic security systems.