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Losing Job After Job

The imminent collapse of German construction giant Phillip Holzmann means more bad news for the country's unlucky construction workers.


Construction workers left hanging.

The news could not get much worse for Germany’s construction workers.

German construction giant Phillip Holzmann appears on the brink of collapse, putting more than 10,000 jobs in the country at risk. The news this week, after a bailout attempt by Holzmann’s biggest creditor Deutsche Bank failed, was just the latest in a downward trend for the country’s construction industry.

More than 150,000 construction workers are set to lose their jobs this year, according to Germany’s trade unions. The jobs have been victimized by a slump in construction investment, the Germany economy overall and a boom in illegal labor.

Holzmann, a 150-year-old company with proud German roots, has employed generations of German construction workers. The company’s builders have worked on some of the country’s most well-known landmarks, like the Reichstag building in Berlin.

"My grandfather was a ‘Holzmann’ and my father worked with the firm for 40 years," Achim Wietschorke, a site foreman told the German daily Bild. "I’ve been at Holzmann for 33 years and now my son has just started work here."

Some have chosen to look at the Holzmann insolvency as a boon to the German construction market. The giant’s collapse leaves room for smaller firms to grow, increasing competition where there was little before.

The German government seems to have recognized this, offering low-interest loans to suppliers and craftsman facing liquidity.

Schröder election year woes

But many predict the collapse of Holzmann will have negative workings on Schröder’s campaign for re-election this year. The economy has already emerged as the main campaign issue in the battle between the chancellor and Edmund Stoiber, the conservative premier of Bavaria.

Schröder personally intervened to save the construction giant from insolvency in 1999, offering 127 million euro in federal aid to bail the company out.

"You can build on the support of an entire country!" Schröder announced to cheers at the time.

There were no cheers this time. Just the angry words of hundreds of construction workers protesting through the streets of Frankfurt.

The deputy head of the Holzmann worker's council said the group would continue to fight for the workers' future. They will have some breathing room, their wages paid for the next three months as required by German law.

"The fight will take many forms -- in the factories and on building sites, in front of stock exchanges and banks, townhalls and courts, train stations and airports," council deputy head Willi Roell told a news conference.

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