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Foreign carers in Germany expose new problems

March 1, 2019

Misunderstandings between German-trained care workers and foreign colleagues can be a source of tensions, a study says. The number of carers in Germany who trained abroad has recently risen dramatically.

A carer and a patient photographed from behind in aged-care center
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

German hospitals and aged-care centers are seeing growing tensions among staff members as more and more carers come from abroad with different training and a lack of German-language skills, a study published on Friday said.

Researchers from the Hans-Böckler Foundation found that there were often two mutually hostile camps in care institutions, one made up of established carers and the other of staff recently arrived from abroad.

Read more: Germany: Good jobs, but unfriendly people, say expats

Different views

The study said that differing attitudes to the profession were often at the root of misunderstandings between the two sides.

For example, the report said, carers from abroad were often trained at universities, something that German-trained staff tended to see as lacking in practical relevance.

Foreign-trained care workers, for their part, often felt that they were working under their proper level, particularly those from southern Europe, who are used to taking on responsibilities for management and patient treatment — decisions that in Germany are left up to doctors. In southern Europe, helping patients eat or looking after their personal hygiene is usually done by special assistants or family members.

Read more: Germany's migrants: Wooed and discriminated against

Foreigners sought to plug gap in German care

Language skills problematic

German-trained carers also often complained that staff from abroad could not work optimally because of a deficient command of the German language. The foreign-trained carers, in their turn, frequently had the impression that the German language was being used to create hierarchies and push them into an outsider role.

The researchers behind the study said it was essential that hospitals and aged-care facilities set aside enough time to allow an exchange of views and the resolution of conflicts. They said independent coaches should be employed to help overcome communication barriers between locally trained staff and those coming from abroad.

Carer shortage

Most of the new care workers in Germany come from the EU countries of Romania, Croatia, Poland and Hungary, as well as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia and Albania. In addition, a growing number of staff members come from the Philippines under a special agreement, the study said.

The annual influx of foreign-trained care workers rose from some 1,500 per year in 2012 to around 8,800 in 2017, the study showed. Despite the growth in numbers, however, Germany still has a much lower proportion of carers trained abroad than countries such as Great Britain or Switzerland, which have two to three times as many, according to the researchers.

German care institutions have long complained about a local shortage of qualified workers in the sector.

Read more: Nursing home abuse in Germany: 'I can't let my mother die of thirst'

Out of time: Elderly care in Germany

tj/sms (KNA, epd)

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