The German cabinet has approved plans to use the nation's swollen ranks of unemployed as seasonal laborers rather than relying on temporary foreign workers from central and eastern Europe.
Are Germans up to backbreaking agricultural work?
The aim, as set out by German Labor Minister Franz Müntefering, is to replace 10 percent of the 325,000 foreign farm laborers who were granted temporary leave to help with the harvest in 2005, with jobless German nationals in 2006 and 2007.
Under the new regulations, each farm will be eligible to employ 80 percent of the number of foreign workers it hired in 2005. A further ten percent could be added to a farm's harvest payroll on condition that there are no German laborers available to do the work.
Much farm work is still done by hand
Germany's employment agency has praised the proposals as sensible. Spokesman John-Philip Hammersen said it was the right thing to do, to grant what work there is in Germany to those on the dole. He said he was not convinced that this was the time to be bringing foreign workers to Germany.
But the Association of German Farmers has criticized the plans, which they say will not promote labor market growth because the jobs would only be temporary. Farmers say their own experience of temporary German workers is that they are often put off by the tough physical nature of the work, and are prone to running to the doctor for a sick note.
Hammersen says that although unemployment benefit recipients are obliged to take what work they are offered, they are often prepared to forego a slice of their unemployment money rather than take on agricultural work.