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Business

German Government Calls off Cleaning Lady Hunt

German Finance Minister Hans Eichel created an uproar after proposing a law that would send the labor police after domestic staff working illegally. He's since backed off.

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No longer chased by the government: off-the-books house cleaners.

If Eichel had his way, people who employed a cleaning lady or babysitter in Germany could possibly be made into outlaws.

As part of a tough government initiative to tackle Germany's booming illegal jobs market, Eichel wanted to target all illegal workers and their employers. Under his bill proposal, domestic help, from cleaners to part-time tutors would be subject to the same constraints and rules as construction workers, office staff and employees in the commercial sector.

That meant that they could face prosecution under German labor laws if they were not registered workers, much in the same way that other workers such as builders, carpenters and technicians were.

Private sector is decriminalized

After an uproar among opposition politicians and members of the government's junion coalition partner, the Greens, Chancellor Gehard Schröder's cabinet reduced the severity of the law. Barbara Hendricks, a deputy finance minister, declared after the cabinet decision: "The private area has become decriminalized."

People working in the part-time domestic services sector are now not required to register for so-called "mini-jobs." The government re-introduced the "minijobs" -- which allow workers to earn up to €400 without having to pay taxes or social benefits -- in an effort to streamline registration and encourage workers to come out of the illegal sector.

Labor police to look elsewhere

An initiative put forward by the Finance Ministry had mobilized a force of 2,000 customs officers to track down and investigate cleaning ladies and other domestic staff who were working in the so-called shadow economy.

A new ministry task force composed of 7,000 officers has been set up to investigate illegal workers and their employers. Their search will now be limited to the restaurant, construction, gaming and tourism industry.

The police trade union and metalworkers union IG Metall has criticized the new rules, claiming that illegal is illegal and the private sector should be monitored and regulated just as any other.

The government's reversal came after the increasing clamor over the "cleaning lady debate" from many members of the public who felt it was unfair to treat domestic help in the same way as other areas of employment and include it in labor law categories along with drug dealers and prostitutes who evade taxation and social security levies.

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