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Two different classes of German teacher

Same job, same qualifications, but significant differences in pay and conditions across states and job status. As thousands of educators go on strike, Samantha Early examines the situation facing Germany's teachers.

Depending on which federal state they wish to work in, teachers in Germany are faced with the possibility, if indeed they are able to choose, of doing their jobs as full-fledged civil servants ("Beamte") or as employees ("Angestellte").

For some, there's no question of preference. A secure, relatively well paying job for life, almost regardless of performance, and having their pension taken care of are major draw cards.

But while the majority of teachers (about 650,000 in total) have this status with its perks as well as its disadvantages including a lack of job flexibility, about a fifth are so-called employed teachers, or "angestellte," who work under very different arrangements.

Their contracts can carry time restrictions, allowing them more flexibility, however they have an entirely different system of pension entitlements and health insurance, and they earn less.

"It's 180,000 euros (about $200,000), that one doesn't have," a 51-year-old Düsseldorf teacher taking part in Tuesday's strikes explained to news agency dpa, calculating the gap between the pay for the two teaching types added up over a 30-year career.

Second class teachers?

BdT Landesweite Warnstreiks von angestellten Lehrern

Teachers in several German states launched protests on Tuesday

"This system is incredibly complicated," Ulf Rödde, a spokesman for the German Education Union GWE told DW, adding that because education in Germany is organized by each state, there are in fact 16 different systems. "And there are many disparities and injustices between them," he said.

All of the teachers striking from Tuesday belong to the employed teacher group - the civil servants are not allowed to strike. The public service workers' unions are currently in a bargaining round, calling for a 5.5 percent pay rise, a minimum of 175 euros ($195) per month, and they're not satisfied with the way the negotiations are going, especially with regards to pensions.

On Friday, the German Education Union led the call for "warning strikes" ahead of the next round of negotiations this March. A key sticking point is the issue of pay scales. As well as the dual systems of employment, each German state currently decides for itself which pay group it puts teachers in.

"We say that cannot be; there must be a nationwide standardized classification, so that a teacher in a Realschule [secondary school] in Bavaria is paid just the same as, for example, in Saxony," Ulf Rödde said.

Appetite for change?

The ratio of civil service to employed teachers varies wildly from state to state. In Bavaria, almost all the teachers have civil servant status, in North Rhine Westphalia it's 80 percent, whereas in Berlin it's about half.

Porträt von Ulf Rödde

Ulf Rödde of the education union GEW wants teachers paid the same, no matter where in Germany they work

In the states which comprise the former East Germany, most teachers have the employee status. However, in an effort to attract young teachers, states like Mecklenburg-West Pomerania are beginning to offer civil servant status for those who fit their criteria. Those criteria also vary from state to state.

Despite the complexity, the system also gives German states a variety of options. While the job security advantages of those with civil servant status go both ways, having employed teachers enables them for example to respond to short-term surges in the number of students coming through the system, without putting a large number of teachers on the payroll for life.

While the current wave of strikes causes temporary disruption to students and parents, the German Education Union is among those calling for longer-term change.

"In the GEW, we have said for a long time that we want standardized rules for public services and that means in principle the situation where we have these two statuses, of employed and civil servant workers, would be abandoned," Ulf Rödde said.

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