The European Union's employment commissioner on Saturday asked Germany to explain its decision to keep its labor market closed until 2011 to unskilled workers from new EU member states in eastern Europe.
The EU feels Germany is unfairly keeping out unskilled workers
"I am awaiting a concrete and detailed explanation from Germany," Vladimir Spidla told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily during a conference in Bonn. "Germany must provide (an explanation), then I will see if the arguments are convincing," the former Czech prime minister added.
Earlier this week, the German government said it would ease rules for highly qualified immigrants from new EU states seeking work to fill yawning gaps in the German job market.
The government also reduced the minimum wage highly-skilled foreigners have to earn to secure a work permit to 63,600 euros ($101,200) per year from 86,400 euros.
Welcome mat for skilled workers
Like many industrialized nations, Germany is struggling to fill thousands of vacant jobs requiring a high level of skills and expertise.
German business have long complained of a dearth of skilled workers in the country and the new measures are an effort to plug a shortage of skilled labour in sectors such as engineering and technology.
Germany faces a huge shortage of engineers
The shortage of computer technicians, engineers and other skilled workers is costing Europe's largest economy around 20 billion euros ($31.8 billion) a year, according to estimates by the government and the DIHK chambers of industry and commerce.
"We have taken a step toward making Germany more competitive internationally," Social Democrat Labor Minister Olaf Scholz said earlier this week. "We are putting the conditions in place so that people can come here who can contribute to creating economic growth."
Raw deal for unskilled immigrants?
However, the proposals include keeping Germany's labor market closed to unskilled workers from new EU member states for two years longer than planned. Germany is one of a handful of EU states still restricting workers from nations that joined the bloc in 2004.
Unskilled workers from the 10 countries that joined the EU in May, 2004, excluding Cyprus and Malta, will not be allowed in until April 2011, compared with an original date of the end of April, 2009. Cheap workers from Romania and Bulgaria will continue to be excluded until the end of 2011.
Spidla wants Germany to explain its bar on unskilled workers
When the EU expanded to take in 10 new members in 2004, Berlin at the time cited fears that a flood of cheap labor would put Germans out of work due to Germany's geographic proximity to the new member states.
The German unemployment rate has since fallen from the double-digit range to 7.5 percent in June.
Spidla said that while EU states could maintain restrictions until 2011, "each government must prove there are risks of serious disruption to its labor market."