“We shouldn’t discriminate against people who are working on minimum wage and have to live in poor conditions while they produce cheap meat for the German market,” said the federation’s leader Gerd Landsberg.
Landsberg stressed that people living in cramped accommodation were more vulnerable to becoming infected with the coronavirus due to their living conditions.
The sensitive topic of the corona virus spreading among eastern European workers has been raised in recent days after 1,000 employees of a slaughterhouse in NRW were confirmed to have the lung infection. Many of the Tönnies slaughterhouse's workers are eastern Europeans on short-term contracts.
But accounts from workers suggest that many of them have to share small rooms with two or three other people while working long shifts on minimum wage.
Romanians working in the meat processing industry told the Süddeustche Zeitung at the weekend that they only put up with the miserable conditions as they provide a first step on the road to getting a decently paid job in Germany.
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Landsberg said that the meat processing industry needed to do more to ensure that its workers were living in humane conditions.
Loud criticism of the meat industry has also come from politicians.
The Green party have called on supermarkets to boycott Tönnies until it offers workers proper housing, while Labour Minister Hubertus Heil said the meat industry was making millions in profit by “exploiting” eastern Europeans.
Disturbances at a high rise building in Göttingen at the weekend also raised alarm about social conflicts sparked by the virus.
The whole building, where entire immigrant families live in tiny 30 square metre apartments, has been placed under a strict quarantine, with fences erected to stop people leaving or entering.
On Saturday afternoon residents tried to break down the fence but were pushed back by police using pepper spray. Eight officers were injured in the ensuing violence as residents threw tyres and metal objects at them.
Criticizing the fact that the city imposed strict quarantine on people who live in such close quarters, local Green politician Thomas Harms said: “85 percent of residents have tested negative for the virus. we ask ourselves if the city would have taken the same measures against such a large housing project if it was home to well off home owners?”