meat factories

The Meat Factory



ad trade (3) open secret
add bound (2) pay/paid/paid
agency plant (3) find/found/found
fall for desperate fall/fell/fallen (3)
deduct cram (2) leave/left/left
salary practical accommodation
dorm sign up subcontractor
rapid privacy no wonder
spread major (2) recruit (2)
infect process market (2)
van share (3) on their way there
seat shift (2) begin/began/begun
laborer break (2) break/broke/broken
cut up slaughter as many as
willing situation secure (2)
hire rule (2) tell/told/told
idyllic located package (2)
rent hygiene by no means
local cast (2) parallel world
sooner parallel undercover
ignore promise know/knew/known
region threaten landscape
dire impose shut down
priest treat (2) well-being
tough criticize for the time being
grim intervene cast a bad light
dignity initiative wear down
justice authority wear/worn/worn
as if at a cost third class (2)
shame regulate representative
call for overhaul see/saw/seen
invest forced to shut/shut/shut
give up head (3) fall/fell/fallen
price lockdown grow/grew/grown (2)
vain disappear concentration
despite sacrifice head home
hope cash (2) entrepreneur






Ads like these promise well-paid jobs in Germany’s meat industry. Romanian companies like the MGM Trade and Recruiting Agency use them to find workers for the German labor market.

Angela and Gabriela are among those who fell for these ads. Desperate for work, they left Romania and their kids behind, and signed up with a different subcontractor.

Gabriela Mursan: The subconstractor promised a lot: accommodation, practical training — but the reality is totally different.”

Workers live in crammed dorms like these, for which 250 euros are deducted straight from the monthly salary. With so little privacy, it was no wonder the corona virus rapidly spread among workers. A major outbreak was bound to happen.

At least 1,500 workers at the Tonnies meat processing plant became infected, either at work, in their dorms or on their way there.

Angela Merisan: “Our minivan only had seven seats, but we often shared it with up to ten passengers. We’d leave two hours before our shift began and arrive home two hours after it ended.”

Gabriela Mursan: “For two months we worked 11 hours every night without a break; but they only paid us for eight-hour shifts.”

At the Tonnies meat processing plant in northwestern Germany, laborers slaughter and cut up as many as 25,000 pigs per day.

Nobody at Tonnies is willing to comment to us on the situation and the hygiene rules for workers. Instead Tonnies tells us we should contact the subcontractors who hire the workers.

The offices of MGM, like those of other subcontractors, are located near the Tonnies factory. But here too nobody is willing to talk to us.

Angela and Gabriela were hired by a different subcontractor to package meat at the Tonnies plant.

Angela Merisan: “They had promised us 1,400 euro in cash, without deductions for rent and transportation, for eight-hour days. That was what they said.”

But their reality is by no means as idyllic as the Rheda-Wiedenbrück landscape.

It seems many locals knew about this parallel world.

Local Male, one: “Everyone knew about this. For years this was an open secret; it was an undercover thing.”

Local Male, two: “This didn’t end well; it casts a bad light on our region.

Local Female, one: “People have known about this for years.”

When the corona virus outbreak threatened to spread to the wider region, the dire working conditions could no longer be ignored: German authorities impose a lockdown and shut down the meat factory, for the time being.

For years Catholic priest Peter Kossen has been criticizing the grim situation in the meat industry. He says the authorities should have intervened much sooner.

Peter Kossen, Priest, Initiative for Dignity and Justice: “Men and women are worn down by these working and living conditions. They’re treated as if their human dignity counts for nothing as if they’re third-class human beings. This will continue at a huge cost to people’s well-being unless we as a society are willing to intervene and regulate this industry.”

Some industry representatives are calling for a complete overhaul of the meat industry, not just working conditions.

Small slaughterhouses are having a tough time on the market they’re forced to invest money, although meat prices are falling.

Klaus Winkler, Entrepreneur: “Unfortunately that’s why we are seeing a concentration of big slaughterhouses. They keep growing and smaller ones disappear that’s a shame.”

Back in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, both Angela and Gabriela now have nothing despite months of hard work. But they won’t give up.

Gabriela Murasan: “You have to sacrifice yourself for your family so your children have a better future.”

For now they’ll head home to Romania and their children. Their hopes of securing a well-paid job in Germany were in vain.

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1. There are recruitment video ads for meat factories. True or false? Why do they make and show these ads?

2. Do all the slaughterhouse workers come from Germany? What nationality are many of the workers? Why have they signed up?

3. Was the reality of working in the Tonnies meat plant the same as what was promised? Is there a link between the working conditions and a covid-19 outbreak?

4. “Tonnies tells us we should contact the subcontractors who hire the workers.” What could this mean or imply? Were the subcontractors open and transparent?

5. Local residents in the company town of Rheda-Wiedenbrück were shocked by the revelations. Is this correct or incorrect?

6. Have there been changed in the meat industry over the years? What has been the trend in the meat industry?

7. Have many people called for changes?


A. Do some or many people complain about certain work practices, companies and industries? Give examples.

B. Have you and your friends had any negative work experiences?

C. Why do such conditions exist?

D. What should people do?

E. What might happen in the future?

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