Start Immediate Action Plan Current situation at the other group sites Günter Wigbers, Municipality Mayor of the municipality of Sögel

Günter Wigbers, Municipality Mayor of the municipality of Sögel
Commune Director of the commune of Sögel



Dear fellow citizens,
After major infection events at foreign and some German abattoirs, parcel delivery services, after family holidays or church services, people in the entire region are worried; after all, around 2,000 people work at Weidemark. In recent days in particular, we have received many questions relating to the subject of coronavirus and which preventative measures have already been implemented. We have also been asked for estimates of future developments. I would like to present you with a selection of the most frequently asked questions and our answers to them.

Several thousand tests have already been carried out. There is currently only one known case with a link to the abattoir. All contact persons for this infected person are in quarantine at home. 140 people from the same production area as the infected employee were released from duty yesterday as a precaution, although these 140 employees tested negative only on Wednesday of this week. So, based on our current knowledge, there was no infection event. In addition to that – with no link to the abattoir – there were two new cases of infection in Sögel.

The slaughter capacities have been reduced in recent days. Whereas the volume in the past was around 15,000 pigs, the number today is between 12,000 and 13,500 per day. There are a number of different reasons for this. However, it is mainly due to the fact that, in order to comply with distancing rules, fewer people are working at the abattoir, and also there are more generous break rules.

After reducing deployment of the employees by around 20 percent, there is now a strict hiring freeze at the Sögel site. No employees are permitted to change to Sögel from other abattoir sites. The few employees who had recently travelled from Romania were subject to the 14-day home quarantine. They were tested twice; on their arrival and when starting work at the abattoir.

Although the employees are advised not to travel home during their leave period, all returning employees, basically all persons who have been away from the abattoir for more than 96 hours, are only allowed to enter the site when a repeat test has shown a negative result.

As a precaution, the contract company and Weidemark have reserved quarantine apartments so that if there is an infection, sick people can be isolated. If required, the contract company will ensure the care of affected persons under the supervision of Weidemark.

All employees, of which there are around 2000, including those from administration and the meat inspection service, have already been tested. These tests are ongoing. The goal is to test all employees from the production departments at least once per week so that infections can be identified early.

It depends who authorises the tests. Weidemark finances the company-internal test centre. As far as we know, tests arranged by the authorities are paid for by the federal state. The health insurance funds are also involved.

All employees have an electronic readable chip which permits access to the abattoir. To prevent misuse, a hand vein scanner is also in use at the site gate to easily establish the identity of persons authorised to enter.

There are thermal imaging cameras at all entrances in order to identify people with symptoms at an early stage. The public health authority and crisis team in Meppen are in constant communication with the abattoir. The ventilation systems in the production areas were fitted with sterilisation devices weeks ago, and last weekend these were also installed in the ventilation systems for the changing rooms and break rooms. To employees from different production areas meeting, there are now strict rules of conduct for using sanitary facilities and break rooms. Staggered shifts and breaks prevent traffic from the work crews. Additional tents outside with catering stations are being used as break rooms.

Although the customs, veterinary inspection office, the public health authority, the trade supervisory board, company-internal quality management and, of course, major customers such as Aldi, Lidl, Edeka and even McDonald’s already regularly inspected the hygiene requirements and work processes at the abattoir, or had them inspected by teams of auditors, these supervisory activities have now been intensified.

Because some contract companies have their head office in the Gütersloh district, their vehicles are also licensed there. The vehicles in Sögel with Gütersloh registration plates are also only used here locally or on the route Sögel-Eastern Europe.

In our area of responsibility there are currently around 90 contract apartments which are checked on an on-going basis. But quite a few employees also live with their families in private apartments. Employees have also rented apartments both privately and together with colleagues.

For each contract apartment and for shared private apartments, we have a German-speaking contact partner who is available to talk to us, the public order office, or the police if the facts of the situation need to be clarified.

All contract accommodation is regularly checked by the municipality of Sögel and the district of Emsland. The checks cover compliance with building regulations, whether there are sufficient escape routes and fire alarms, and, for example, whether sufficient sanitary facilities are provided. In the municipality of Sögel, there are more stringent requirements with regard to fitting the apartments with washing and shower facilities which are based on the contracts with the contract companies and which exceed the building regulations for Lower Saxony. This is because employees of a food processing company are subject to high hygiene requirements. Weidemark has also provided disinfection products and hygiene articles for apartments of its own and contract employees.

Just like Tönnies in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, in accordance with services contract law and the valid data protection regulations, Weidemark may only be in possession of data for its own employees, not for contract employees. For example, Weidemark itself is only permitted to record and save the entry data, but is not permitted to access time recording and the addresses of the contract employees. Apart from that, in Sögel, with the code of conduct and apartment certification guidelines, we have contractual agreements with the contract companies and, combined with resident registration, we also have a very up-to-date set of data.

The uncertainty of local residents is one thing. But the uncertainty of employees is just as great. The Kolping Europabüro will further expand its advisory services with financial assistance from the municipality of Sögel which is refinanced via the contract companies and Weidemark. The Kolping Europabüro and municipality of Sögel unanimously agree that the foreign workers are now particularly in need of our solidarity. With the imminent abolition of the services contracts, there will be many changes and the demands on the Kolping Europabüro will again increase. We must relieve the employees of their fear of the future. In addition to personal advice, maintaining contact with the employees in their native languages via social media has become even more important.

Apart from the employees’ fears for the future, the complete closure of abattoirs and the reduced number of slaughter operations in Sögel, as in other locations, will generate major problems for agriculture in the short term. We estimate that there is currently a shortfall in slaughter capacity in Germany of a good 20 percent. With one million animals slaughtered each week, this means that, if the current situation continues, 200,000 fewer pigs will be slaughtered in Germany each week. Piglet producers, farmers, livestock traders, service providers and artisans, as well as food retailers, will be affected in different ways, in some cases, seriously. And then there is the animal welfare debate of whether it is ethically responsible to slaughter hundreds of thousands of healthy pigs, including piglets, and to throw away millions of tonnes of valuable food in Germany.

Günter Wigbers, Mayor of the municipality of Sögel