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  • Producing more,

  • faster and for less money.

  • That's hownnies became Germany's

  • biggest meat processing company.

  • And how Clemensnnies became

  • a bill- ionaire.

  • But in June, 1,500

  • contract workers at the company's

  • Rheda-Wiedenbrück facility

  • caught Coronavirus.

  • Most came from

  • Eastern Europe and lived in cramped,

  • shared apartments like these.

  • So many people live in such a small space.

  • There might be one toilet for ten people.

  • Contract workers get less money and fewer rights.

  • And not just in the meat industry.

  • German Labor Minister Hubertus Heil

  • now wants to change things.

  • We will ban contract work and

  • temporary work in the core activities

  • of the meat industry.

  • The pandemic called attention to

  • contract-worker exploitation in Germany.

  • The town of Verl, near Rheda-Wiedenbrück,

  • at the end of June.

  • Thousands of people from Eastern Europe

  • are essentially under house arrest,

  • guarded by police.

  • Their work at thennies

  • slaughterhouse has been suspended.

  • Around 7,000 employees are in quarantine.

  • A few kilometers away, a relief operation is underway.

  • Rheda-Wiedenbrück residents have made donations for the workers.

  • One of the organizers is Inge Bultschnieder.

  • For over seven years she's been fighting for

  • the rights ofnnies workers.

  • There's much more than we ever expected.

  • It happened at very short notice.

  • Our idea is to give care packages in solidarity.

  • So the workers see that this anger isn't

  • directed at them, but at others.

  • Over a thousand packages have been collected,

  • containing food, toiletries, and even toys.

  • Plamena Georgieva and Stanimir Mihaylov

  • distribute donations in Verl,

  • where manynnies workers live in shared apartments.

  • Mihaylov and Georgieva give support to

  • migrant workers from Eastern Europe.

  • They translate for us.

  • One Bulgarian says he's been a meat cutter

  • fornnies for eighteen months.

  • For example, if a veterinarian marks

  • any spots on the pig that are not suitable for consumption,

  • one of his jobs is to cut them off.

  • The man is employed by a subcontractor.

  • He gets the minimum wage, ?9.35 an hour.

  • He hasn't received a paycheck for months.

  • He lives here,

  • in an 80 square meter apartment with eight others.

  • Next door we meet some men and women from Poland.

  • The men are contract workers fornnies

  • and also live here in collective accommodation.

  • How many live here?

  • Eight or nine.

  • They're three-room apartments.

  • We want to know more about thennies workers' living conditions.

  • We say we'll give them a camera for

  • 20 minutes so they can take some pictures of their place.

  • One of the men refuses.

  • The other one takes our camera

  • and goes off to take some pictures.

  • But after a few moments he comes back.

  • Another man appears behind him.

  • He doesn't seem to like the contract worker talking to us.

  • The worker is told to give the camera back.

  • We ask who the man is.

  • Is that the boss?

  • Yes.

  • He sends the workers back into the house.

  • He ordered them to leave?

  • It's a shame that happened.

  • Because some of them wanted to talk to us

  • and to tell us what was happening to them.

  • I hope there are no bad consequences for them now.

  • Workers behind fences, guarded by police.

  • How did it come to this?

  • In June 2020, there was a Coronavirus outbreak at

  • nnies in Rheda-Wiedenbrück,

  • Germany's largest slaughterhouse.

  • These pictures are from before the pandemic.

  • The ventilation system is said to be to blame for the mass infections,

  • as well as insufficient physical distancing between employees.

  • One of the workers talked about his experiences in a cell phone video.

  • As long as you felt healthy, no one worried that you kept working.

  • They only cared about the money.

  • They didn't care if we died or not.

  • It's likely the employees spread the virus

  • from the workplace to their homes.

  • Many live with three to four people in a single room.

  • So the outbreak grew.

  • More than 6,000 Tönnies workers were tested.

  • More than fifteen-hundred were positive.

  • Locals were also being tested.

  • In June, the district went into lockdown again.

  • Andnnies working conditions became a focus of global attention.

  • A small village in the south of Romania.

  • Alberto Gogu lives in this house with his family.

  • He literally fled from Rheda-Wiedenbrück in mid-June.

  • As a contract worker atnnies

  • he experienced the coronavirus outbreak.

  • He says physical distancing at work was impossible.

  • Even in the canteen it was too crowded.

  • We were told to distance ourselves, but that was impossible.

  • Otherwise we'd have to be standing up.

  • Alberto says that when the first workers got sick,

  • he and his colleagues had to work much more.

  • He was doing up to 12 hours a day on the production line,

  • even when he felt sick himself.

  • I told the boss, I'm not feeling well,

  • I have to see a doctor.

  • She said, You're not going anywhere.

  • Alberto was afraid of catching Coronavirus.

  • He went back to Romania in mid-June.

  • He's spent the last 12 years doing contract work in Germany.

  • But after his experiences in the last few months,

  • he says he's had enough.

  • Thousands of people like Alberto Gogu work atnnies,

  • even though the company doesn't actually employ them.

  • Here's how this system of contract work

  • and temporary work functions.

  • Usually, companies have a core workforce.

  • If there's more to do at short notice,

  • temporary workers can be hired.

  • They become part of the company for a limited time.

  • Temporary work is rare in the meat industry.

  • What's common is contract work.

  • This is when a company hires subcontractors to

  • carry out a specific job,

  • like cutting up animal carcasses.

  • The subcontractor sends its workers to do the job.

  • The original company pays for the work to be done,

  • but doesn't take responsibility for the personnel who do it.

  • They don't belong to the company.

  • Thennies site at Rheda-Wiedenbrück works with around 25 subcontractors,

  • who mostly source their workers from Eastern Europe.

  • Of a total of 16,500 employees,

  • only half are employed bynnies.

  • The other half are contract workers.

  • That's the system Inge Bultschnieder is fighting against.

  • When she heard about the

  • poor working and living conditions atnnies,

  • she decided to act.

  • In 2013 she and others founded a group to

  • help those affected by exploitative employment.

  • She shows us articles about her work.

  • As early as 2014, the group was pointing out

  • contract workers' often alarming living conditions.

  • We laid out the plan of the building with a tarpaulin,

  • and used labels to show what we'd seen.

  • There'd be a bed, and even that might be a bunk bed.

  • So many people live in such a small space.

  • There might be one toilet for ten people.

  • Bultschnieder shows us a cell phone video she made

  • in a flat shared bynnies workers.

  • The living rooms are filled with beds,

  • three to four people sleep in a room.

  • The bathroom is completely run-down.

  • Today, many say they knew nothing about the situation.

  • But Bultschnieder and her fellow-activists have been

  • criticizing these conditions for seven years.

  • In 2015, they took their concerns to the highest level.

  • Sigmar Gabriel, then economy minister and vice-chancellor,

  • visited them.

  • He took notes as he heard about the situation.

  • He was so interested.

  • We felt sure that now something would change.

  • When he left our house, we cheered.

  • We said, Now something will happen.

  • She could hardly believe what happened next.

  • Clemensnnies took Gabriel on a guided tour of

  • his meat processing plant, in front of the cameras.

  • It was a PR coup for the businessman.

  • The Vice Chancellor was full of praise,

  • despite knowing about the problems atnnies.

  • Later he wrote on Facebook.

  • ...it's good thatnnies sets positive standards in

  • an industry that also has its share of bad apples.

  • 5 years on, Sigmar Gabriel briefly worked

  • for Clemensnnies as a consultant

  • for 10,000 euros a month.

  • Andnnies, with all his contacts in the political world,

  • is one of Germany's richest people,

  • with an estimated private fortune of up to 2 billion euros.

  • Enough to employ a host of contract workers

  • whose poor living and working conditions have been known for years

  • and even a former German vice chancellor.

  • Not every part of the meat industry relies on contract workers.

  • There are still around 13,000 so-called craft butchers in Germany.

  • Herbert Dohrmann runs five of them in Bremen.

  • His family business employs around 70 people.

  • How many of your personnel are contract workers?

  • None of them.

  • They wouldn't be here if I put them on a work contract.

  • And temporary workers?

  • No temporary workers either.

  • A lot of them have been with me for over ten or 15 years.

  • Pork chops from a cheap supermarket might cost six euros a kilo.

  • Dohrmann charges double that.

  • It's not only because of higher wages.

  • Large slaughterhouses have lower costs.

  • Factory farmed pigs are cheaper.

  • It's advertised as regional pork, that's all very well.

  • But look. The certification level is one.

  • That's industrial pig farming,

  • where only the lowest requirements of animal welfare are fulfilled.

  • As president of the German Butchers' Association,

  • Dohrmann says small butchers are at a disadvantage.

  • For example, a government-certified veterinary

  • examination of a pig costs a small business up to 24 euros.

  • Businesses that slaughter several thousand animals a day pay less,

  • according to regional fee scales.

  • At the big industrial places that price is

  • at most one-fifty to two euros.

  • In addition, small butchers pay higher fees for

  • disposing slaughterhouse waste and spend more on

  • electricity because of renewable-energy levies.

  • Dohrmann isn't trying to match the

  • industrial slaughterhouses' prices.

  • But he does want more support from politicians.

  • We don't want special treatment, just equal treatment.

  • Giant slaughterhouses aren't just a threat to smaller competitors,

  • but often to their own workers too.

  • Volker Brüggenjürgen is the chairman of the

  • charity Caritas in the district oftersloh.

  • He's witnessed how thennies company went from being

  • a simple butcher's store to Germany's

  • largest slaughterhouse and meat-processor.

  • He says Clemensnnies made his

  • fortune at the expense of workers.

  • nnies makes most of the profit, of course.

  • There's no question that they've exploited the

  • poverty gap for professional gain.

  • They also profit because if there are blatant violations,

  • it's always the subcontractors' fault.

  • nnies always keeps its hands clean.

  • Brüggenjürgen has been advisingnnies

  • contract workers and their families since 2016.

  • He and his colleagues have held more than 10,000 consultations.

  • He knows the methods used to keep monthly wages low.

  • Technically, the minimum wage is what's on the pay slip,

  • but then there might be 150 or 300 euros

  • deducted for accommodation.

  • Or for cleaning materials or shoes.

  • Whatever they can deduct.

  • Or they increase the rent when people are sick.

  • That type of thing.

  • There isn't much left over from the minimum wage.