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Germany vows more labour market checks

Germany’s government sought Sunday to ease fears of a flood of cheap labour as Europe’s biggest economy, with Austria, finally scrapped restrictions on workers from eight former communist EU countries.

“At least 100,000 people from eight Eastern European countries will come here every year,” Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the mass circulation newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

But she promised a rise in checks on industries such as construction, gastronomy and health care to make sure that workers were being paid the minimum wage, where applicable, and that they were properly registered.

And she stressed that those arriving in Germany would not be a drain on Germany’s welfare state.

“The vast majority will be young, educated and mobile workers,” she said.

Germany and Austria, plus non-EU Switzerland, on Sunday opened their labour markets to citizens of Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which all joined the EU in 2004.

Germany and Austria were the last remaining holdouts in the EU, which now has 27 members, having imposed seven-year “transition periods” to restrict access.

Some sectors in Germany’s booming economy have complained of a shortage of skilled workers and have been actively recruiting at trade fairs in Eastern Europe ahead of the May 1 dropping of restrictions.