Incomprehensible contracts, bad conditions, coronavirus: Abroad in Europe


“Modern slavery in the heart of Europe” is how Deutsche Welle describes the situation with the slaughterhouse in the northwestern German city of Koesfeld, where 400 new COVID-19 cases were registered the day before. Even during the boom of infected cases in May, it turned out that most of the employees in the company come from Eastern European countries, including Bulgaria, and working conditions are more than unacceptable.

A well-worked scheme for maximum profit on the backs of workers, deployed in several countries – we are witnessing this, according to the Honorary Consul of Bulgaria in Germany Werner Jostmeier. He told bTV that a big problem is the fact that the workers themselves do not want or cannot complain about the poor living conditions. It was misery that turned out to be at the bottom of the new outbreak of coronavirus in the middle of Germany.

What is the scheme?

“Bulgarians are not known to us, due to the fact that employers are not exactly slaughterhouses, but Bulgarian intermediary companies, which in most cases have their own pig farms in Bulgaria,” he said.

Jostmeier describes the scheme, in which our compatriots are also involved: a large meat processing company concludes a contract with the Bulgarian intermediary company for the slaughter of, for example, 1000 pigs a day, then concludes a contract with a similar Romanian company, which undertakes to cut these pigs, and a third Polish company undertakes to pack these pre-slaughtered and cut pigs. The Honorary Consul calls this a “well-functioning mechanism.”

Lost in Translation

The main problems in this case are two. First of all, most workers do not understand German, English or even Bulgarian.

“Many of the people who enter into this type of legal relationship have a Bulgarian passport due to purely historical reasons. In general, they speak Turkish and have very poor Bulgarian. This is a problem when they decide whether to complain to the competent authorities such as our consulate or health care institutions, they choose to remain silent, “explains Jostmeyer.

As a result, workers sign contracts they do not understand and which are “unacceptable to the principles of European law”. In recent weeks, the authorities have come across a number of cases in which workers live at the expense of intermediaries and, for example, are forced to pay if they are unable to go to work due to illness.

It is perfectly normal in a pandemic situation for workers to be even more afraid of losing their jobs.

In this situation, the problem is not only rooted in Germany, but is also common in other countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, England and France, where workers from the Balkans find themselves in difficult working conditions.

What needs to change?

In this type of relationship of cheap labor everyone is interchangeable. That is why a pan-European solution must be sought, says Werner Jostmeier: “The main goal in concretizing this plan is not to repeat the situation with guest workers in the 1960s and 1970s.”

The first steps of North Rhine-Westphalia were towards a trained and well-educated workforce finding its well-paid realization in their homeland – not falling victim to modern-day slavery on German soil.

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