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Business

Unions, employers debate benefits of temp workers

The economic crisis seems to have run its course in Germany as unemployment falls and businesses predict growth for 2010 and 2011. Now trade unions want employers to start hiring temp workers for long-term employment.

Illustration of a maze with Find a Job written in middle and drawn figures walking around

Finding a permanent job is getting harder in Germany

The number of unemployed in Germany fell to below 3 million for the first time in 18 years, Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen said this week.

Michael Sommer, head of the German Trade Union Federation (DGB), said he now wants to see Germany's recovery from the global economic crisis translate into improved conditions for German workers.

"People have to be able to live from their work," he said. "They also have to have a say in their work. Economic bosses can't say they want to do things one way then change their tune and start doing things another way. Employers' and workers' interests need to be considered."

While German workers grew accustomed to spending their working lives with a single company, current statistics show the situation on the job market has undergone serious changes.

Temp work on the rise

A woman on the phone in front of a computer

Temp workers are regarded as flexible employees

The number of people with permanent contracts accompanied by unemployment and other social benefits has fallen while the number of people in recent years while the number of people requiring state aid to round out their pay has increased, according to the DGB.

The unions reported that 2.2 million people in Germany work for an hourly wage of less than 6 euros and that 1.3 million people receive state subsidies since their pay alone does not keep them above the poverty line. Temp work, which usually comes without benefits, has also increased from 704,000 in June to 1 million in October.

"Temp workers are a very flexible reserve of workers and, as we saw during the crisis, are the first be fired and are paid much worse than staff doing the same job," Sommer said, adding that the pay gap amounted to 7 euros per hour.

German companies were able to avoid widespread layoffs by implementing government subsidies for shortened working hours. This allowed businesses respond to an upturn in orders without delays associated with having to rehire workers.

Companies re-evaluate staffing options

An office worker with his feet on his desk

Employers want to make sure everyone is busy

But the jobs that were lost may not come back in their pre-recession form as companies re-evaluate their employment policies and may rehire temp workers as needed rather than creating new positions, according to Hans-Peter Kloes of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.

"There is a need for flexibility on the part of employers and a need for stability from the employed," he said. "The idea has to be to create a form of 'modern employment' by balancing the sets of interests."

Kloes added that Germany's relatively quick recovery from the global crisis relied on temp workers.

"We are not dealing with cheap workers or undercutting wages, but with the creation of new alternatives," he said.

Trial run

A steelworker

Metal workers and employers agreed to equal pay for equal work

Temporary positions, Kloes said, represent an opportunity for employers to test the new employees' skills before hiring them in more permanent positions.

"It has to be clear that people coming from unemployment are not going to walk into full-time positions," he said.

About half of the people who took on temp work in 2003 had received permanent positions within five years, according to a study done by the Cologne institute.

But trade unions don't see the same benefits for temp workers, saying that many of those who do not receive permanent contracts are in positions for long periods of time without the benefits of long-term employment. Sommer has called on the government to change the laws making this possible.

Unions and employers agreed in September to pay temporary workers in the steel industry at the same rate as permanent employees, a move Sommer said should serve as a model for other sectors as well.

"We have to give in to European law and institute equal pay for equal work," he said.

Author: Sabine Kinkartz / sms

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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