Response of the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality
People must be able to do their work safely. I now note that some of the NVWA veterinarians have not always had that feeling and that they have not always felt heard by their management. If employees do not feel heard, this must improve. That is a conversation that I continue to have with the NVWA.
The corona crisis is a challenging time for the whole of the Netherlands, and this is even more true for work in a crucial sector. Over time, NVWA management has taken measures to better protect employees, for example with extra personal protective equipment and improving internal processes whereby concerns and reports could find their way through the organization. The NVWA also held talks with the slaughterhouses to tighten RIVM measures where necessary.
There is also a responsibility with companies and slaughterhouses themselves. If things are not properly arranged there, this has consequences. Stopping the slaughtering process is an extremely escalation tool that can be used by the NVWA in a situation that is unsafe for them. I have also warned the sector about this.
When the measures against corona were tightened up, the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) instructed employees to follow the guidelines of the national government and the RIVM and to work from home as much as possible. If it was necessary to continue to carry out work on location, the NVWA has given priority to ensuring the safety of its employees. In concrete terms, this means that employees are instructed to always follow the guidelines of central government and RIVM during their work and to stop work if this is not possible.
Where necessary, the NVWA has also taken additional measures to protect its employees, for example by advising employees to use extra personal protective equipment from the moment they were available to employees. The NVWA acted on the basis of information from the national government and RIVM that was available at the time.
The inspection work by supervisory veterinarians of the NVWA and their official KDS assistants has been identified as crucial professions related to the food supply. Slaughterhouses cannot be slaughtered without the presence of KDS veterinarians and assistants. The NVWA understands that it is difficult and exciting for employees in crucial professions to continue to carry out work on location. The NVWA has therefore paid a great deal of attention to concerns and questions that arise with employees and has taken extra measures where necessary and possible.
Furthermore, on March 23, 2020, the NVWA called on slaughterhouses to draw up protocols detailing how companies ensure that the RIVM guidelines are complied with. On 23 May 2020, the NVWA, together with the Inspectorate SZW slaughterhouses, again expressly pointed out their responsibility to ensure a safe working environment, including the obligation to ensure that work can be carried out in accordance with the RIVM guidelines.