Germany considers opening labour market to east Europe
27 July 2007, Berlin (dpa) - Faced with a shortage of skilled labour, Germany is considering plans to ease restrictions on workers from Eastern Europe taking up employment in Europe's biggest economy.
27 July 2007
Berlin (dpa) - Faced with a shortage of skilled labour, Germany is considering plans to ease restrictions on workers from Eastern Europe taking up employment in Europe's biggest economy.
While industry has welcomed the move as long overdue, politicians are divided on the issue and trade unions have warned the move could lead to "wage dumping on an unprecedented scale."
Germany imposed a temporary ban on job-seekers from eight former Soviet bloc countries that joined the EU in 2004. The restrictions are due to expire in 2009.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government is due to discuss its strategy in August, but a Social Democratic member of her ruling coalition said the skills deficit needed prompt action.
"If the shortage of qualified workers in Germany continues, the limits on foreign workers from Eastern Europe could be lifted before 2009," Deputy Labour Minister Gerd Andres said this week.
With the Germany economy thriving, employers have warned that key industries might not be able to find enough domestically trained engineers, technicians and IT specialists.
The Federation of German Industries (BDI) said it would like to see the government open up the labour market to workers from Poland, Hungary and other countries before 2009.
"There are a lot of highly qualified workers in eastern Europe. It is vitally important for us to gain access to these specialists as quickly as possible," said BDI president Arnd Kirchoff.
The German Chamber of Trade and Industry (DIHK) expressed concern that a looming shortage of skilled workers would have adverse effects on the Germany economy.
"The lack of specialists is becoming a serious problem. It could severely hamper growth and threaten Germany's position as an industrial location," said DIHK president Martin Wansleben.
But these views are not shared by Frank-Juergen Weise, head of the Federal Labour Agency, which looks after Germany's 3.8 million unemployed, 8.8 per cent of the workforce.
"The positive economic climate should be used to give those who are already there a chance and not to bring in people from outside," Weise told German television.
Germany's Federal of Trade Unions (DGB) warned that opening up the market could prompt German employers to hire cheap labour and called for the introduction of a national minimum wage.
If restrictions are lifted earlier than planned, it could lead to "wage dumping on an unprecedented scale," said DGB board member Annelie Buntenbach."
The restrictions were designed to remain in force until 2009 and should only be eased "when the German labour market is fully protected from wage dumping," she said.
Merkel's Christian Democrats and the SPD agreed last month to extend the minimum wage in the lowest paying sectors, but ruled out introduction of an across-the-board minimum wage.
Germany is one of the few countries in the 27-member European Union that does not have a general minimum wage, except for construction workers and cleaning staff.
CDU labour market expert Uwe Schummer warned against "a premature opening of the labour market," while Reinhard Grindel from the same party said there was a great deal to speak for such a move.
The EU welcomed the debate, pointing out that migration flows following the 2004 enlargement have had positive economic effects in those countries which did not restrict free movement.
"It is high time that there is a discussion on this issue in Germany, given the national economic and labour market situation, said EU Employment Commissioner Vladimir Spidla.
Spidla said allowing in workers from Eastern Europe would also help fight illicit employment "and ensure that workers enjoy better protection of their rights."
Britain, Ireland and Sweden were the only ones of the 15 EU members that opened up their markers to foreign workers from countries that joined the EU in 2004.
Finland, Spain, Italy, Portugal, Greece and the Netherlands gradually eased access, but six countries, including Germany, still have restrictions in force. Germany can extend these restrictions to 2011 if it deems its labour market is threatened.
Subject: German news