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Europe

German trade unions set to help Croatian workers

Germany’s job market will stay restricted for employees from the most recent EU member state, Croatia, for two years. But German trade unions are already supporting Croatian migratory workers.

Since becoming the 28th member state of the European Union and part of the EU internal market, Croatia now benefits from free movement of goods and capital. But for Croatian employees, access to the German job market will stay restricted until at least mid-2015. The for a work permit, however, does not apply to university graduates, apprentices and seasonal workers, the latter of which are allowed live and work in Germany for up to six months a year.

Immigration despite restrictions

The last two EU enlargement rounds in 2004 and 2007 already showed that employees from eastern European countries did attempt to break into the German job market despite restrictions.

Katarina Frankovic. (Photo: DGB / Juergen Klose)

Franković can repeat many stories of worker exploitation

Many of them became victims of shady job agents or irresponsible employers. Many butchers and building workers, for example, had to take service contracts or work as sham independent contractors for starvation wages.

Two years ago, the Confederation of German Trade Unions initiated the project "fair mobility," which supports employees from the new EU member states in asserting their rights in Germany. Now the project has been extended to help and advise employees from Western Balkan countries.

Starvation wages eastern migratory workers

"We meet people who work for three euros per hour in slaughterhouses. Or truck drivers who don't get paid expenses, or often not even their wages," said project worker Katarina Franković. She has heard many stories of exploitation from her clients.

Many problems occur when people try to get access to the German job market by registering for a trade license and thus becoming self-employed. Franković even said that for many Bulgarians and Romanians, "somebody else has registered a trade license on their behalf without them even knowing it."

Many of these employees end up in poverty or even become homeless when they eventually realize that they owe contributions to the social safety net, which they cannot afford to pay, Franković said.

Trade unions get prepared

Nicolas Landgraf und Josip Juratovic. (Copyright: DGB / Juergen Klose)

Landgraf speaks of systematic exploitation

Nikolaus Landgraf, chairman of the German Trade Union Federation in Baden-Wuerttemberg, said "the situation for mobile employees is systematically being used to bypass minimum standards concerning working conditions and pay scales."

And not only in the constructing or meat industries, he added. Similar cases are known with janitorial work or in care of the elderly, in the hotel and catering, as well as the transport and logistics sectors.

"We stand up for employees who are in a weak position because they cannot speak the language well, and often fall victims to exploitation and even human trafficking," Landgraf said. "They urgently need support."

The project now has six information centers in Germany. Employees can get advice not only in German and English, but also in their eastern European languages.

No Croatian run

The German job market is very attractive for people from Croatia, where the unemployment rate is 18 percent. In the neighboring countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where 650,000 Bosnian Croatians live, the unemployment rate is even higher, at 28 percent.

But Franković said she doesn’t expect Croatian employees to make a run on the German job market. "In Germany we already have a very big Croatian community - those who want to come are probably already here," Franković said. "Or have been told by relatives or friends what the situation in Germany is like," she added.

Moreover, Franković said that Croatia is not such a large country that workers who do enter Germany will cause a significant change in the job market.

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