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eBay for the Working World

DW staff (dc)March 15, 2005

When Fabian Löw unleashed jobdumping.de on the Internet, he had an inkling it would be provocative. Because at a time when job seekers have it tough, his job auctions are won by those willing to work for the least pay.

Cleaning jobs are frequently up for grabs on jobdumping.deImage: dpa

The concept of jobdumping.de is simple. An employer posts a job that needs doing, along with the maximum wage he or she is willing to pay. Interested job seekers then compete with each other for the job by underbidding, meaning the employer ends up with the person willing to do the job for the least amount of money.

The system can also work the other way, with workers entering their skills in the auction at the minimum price they're willing to work for, and interested employers then push the wage up as they outbid each other.

Wages too high

Jobsuche im Internet
More Germans are turning to the Internet to find jobs.Image: AP

Launched in early October, Fabian Löw's "eBay for the working world" has attracted plenty of interest, as well as a fair share of criticism. Löw is frequently accused of exploiting the desperation of job seekers at a time when unemployment is at a record high, and laws cutting benefits for the jobless have just been introduced. The very name "jobdumping.de" has proved to be extremely provocative, just as Löw suspected. So why did he do it?

"Wage costs, compared across an inter-European level, are unreasonably high in Germany. They have to be completely renegotiated," Löw told Die Zeit.

Löw makes no bones about the fact that he approached the project from the employer's perspective. He looks at the situation on the German labor market with cold realism, and doesn't shy away from saying things most Germans would prefer not to hear -- including his view that in future, Germans will have to get used to working more.

"In the long term, we know that in a few years, we'll only be able to keep our standard of living by having other jobs on the side," he said.

It sounds a bit callous coming from someone currently studying social work at a Catholic technical college in Münster. But Löw said he has no moral qualms. All the users on jobdumping.de are obligated to abide by current tax, labor and insurance laws.

"We don't exploit our members or the unemployment situation," he told Die Welt. "Everyone can decide freely when and where, and above all, for how much he or she wants to work. But only when wages fall can companies, households, entrepreneurs and freelancers create work again. That's the core of our premise."

Smacks of slavery

BA Arbeitslose Arbeitslosengeld II
Some jobdumping.de users say it's better than waiting around at the labor office.Image: AP

Still, some German labor market experts have had harsh words for the Internet site. Dirk Niebel of the Liberal Democratic party even went so far as to call the premise "immoral" in an interview printed in the Berliner Zeitung on Tuesday.

"I find it strange," he said. "It smacks of a slave market. Anyone willing to work like this can't be especially motivated, and how should they be? Quality work under such circumstances is impossible."

A few precautions are built in to the jobdumping.de system, however. First there's an absolute minimum wage of €3 ($4) per hour. And, as with eBay, there's also a ratings system, borrowed from the grading system used in German schools. "Jobdumpers" can judge each other ranging from a "six" for poor performance, to a "one" for a job well done.