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Foreign abattoir workers in Germany face low pay, uncertain employment

BERLIN--Working conditions were already tough for the 170 Germans, Czechs, Slovakians, Poles, Hungarians, Brazilians and Romanians employed at the Waldkraiburg abattoir in Bavaria until the summer of 2012.

But when the sub-contractor who employed them, Global Dienstleistungs GmbH, went bust in June of that year and was replaced by two new firms, things took a turn for the worse.

The workers were given just 24 hours to sign new contracts, explains one worker, an Eastern European who only gives his name as Igor, in broken German.

They were told “you sign, or you walk,” Igor says.

“My family is here, without money, without security. My children go to school here. I have no choice.”

The Waldkraiburg abattoir belongs to Dutch-owned group VION, whose motto, according to its website, is “Passion for Better Food.”

In Germany, which has only recently pledged to introduce a nationwide minimum wage, it is common practice in certain industries to use sub-contractors who recruit employees from elsewhere in the European Union, preferably the east, particularly for seasonal work such as crop harvesting.

The workers are hired in their own country, but then transferred for the season to Germany where they are housed in temporary accommodation.

Under EU rules so-called posted workers are supposed to be paid wages consistent with those in the country where they work, but social insurance payments are made in their home EU country.

In reality, however, their wages and work conditions resemble those in their home countries.

Host countries have either failed to adequately police the practice or have encountered difficulties getting information from companies located abroad.

Last week, EU labor ministers agreed to curtail abuses by companies that temporarily post workers to other EU countries at lower wages, a practice France sees as social dumping.

EU countries will now have greater powers to force companies to prove they are complying with local labor laws.

It is not only the agricultural and construction industries which make use of such arrangements.

'Workers keep quiet out of fear of reprisals'

Online retail giant Amazon recently found itself under fire for using similar practices to hire cheap labor during the busy Christmas period at its main German sites.

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