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German Government Pushes to Reform Skilled Crafts

Despite protest from craftsmen and women, Germany’s government has approved measures to abolish the master craftsman's diploma in a number of vocations. Craftsmen fear the end of the centuries-old tradition.


Germany's journeymen protest action to reform the country's regulations on crafts and trades.

Master craftsmen and women waved their hammers, chisels and sewing needles at the German government on Wednesday in protest of its decision to loosen rigid regulations of 65 skilled trades.

The reforms, which were put forth by Economics Minister Wolfgang Clement, virtually eliminate the time-honored tradition of the Meisterbrief or master craftsman’s diploma, and allow ambitious journeymen to set up shop without the prestigious qualification.

Sternenscheibe als Buttercremetorte

For master tailors, cobblers, tile layers, goldsmiths, and 61 other craftsmen, this means they will have to open up their ranks to lesser-qualified colleagues, who will begin to compete with them for customers. Up until now, only those craftsmen with the Meisterbrief were allowed to start a company and employ journeymen and train apprentices.

For some 29 trades considered high-risk, such as electricians or opticians, the Meisterbrief requirement still applies, but even here journeymen with 10 years of experience, including five years at the management level, will be able to open up a business.

In justifying his reform plans, Clement said the changes were absolutely necessary because "profits and jobs are declining dramatically in the trades." The minister said the changes would ensure the future of craftsmanship and lead to the creation of new companies, jobs and apprenticeships, while at the same time reducing the number of people employed illegally.

Clement also pointed out that craftsmen from neighboring EU member states were able to start up companies in Germany without having to show a Meisterbrief or its equivalent. With the EU expanding eastwards, the minister said that competition in Germany among the crafts and trades will become even tougher. The new reforms, therefore, put a stop to the "domestic discrimination" placed on German craftsmen, by allowing them to compete more fairly for contracts and customers.

Destroying traditional structures

The President of the National Federation of German Skilled Crafts and Trade (ZDH), Dieter Philipp, criticized Clement’s plans saying that the reforms "do not mean modernization but instead the irreparable destruction of structures that are needed more than ever on the way toward a service and knowledge-driven society."

Philipp said the reforms had not been thought through and that the problems plaguing craftsmen were no different from those affecting the rest of the economy, namely the dramatic domestic economic situation and the absence of structural reforms. Enabling more people to become self-employed would not solve the problem, Philipp added.

Clement's reform plan still requires approval from the Bundesrat, Germany's upper legislative chamber, where it faces opposition Christian Democratic Union, which holds the majority of votes. Both the CDU and the business-friendly Free Democratic Party say they favor retaining the Meisterbrief as a guarantee for high quality German craftsmanship.

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