Germans Head South in Search of Jobs | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 09.06.2005
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Germans Head South in Search of Jobs

As euroskeptics across the continent smugly salute France and Holland for crushing the EU constitution ratification process, a migratory trend among German workers validates the benefits of cross border labor markets.


The Austrian hills are alive with employment

Over the past decade, the Austrian and Swiss employment markets have become highly attractive for Germans who have either failed to find work on their home turf, or for those who simply want to get a taste of life beyond the boundaries of home.

Statistics compiled by the Austrian Social Insurance Holding Organization reveal that the number of Germans working south of the border has risen from an average of some 13,000 in 1995 to more than 45,000 last month. It's a steep hike which is disproportionate to the overall rise in the number of foreigners employed in Austria -- 300,000 in 1995 compared to 364,000 in 2004.

Alphornbläser vor heimatlicher Kulisse in Kiefersfelden

The lyrical lure of the Alps

Traditionally Germans are not renowned for roaming the continent in search of work. Although the history of the German people is dotted with emigration episodes, on the whole, there was never a great need for them to leave home in order to make ends meet. But times, moods and motivations change, and Germans now represent the largest group of foreign workers from any European Union country in Austria.

Collectively they have a presence in the construction industry, in retail, cleaning, in agriculture, railways and much more, but the biggest single group is employed, albeit seasonally, in the tourist industry.

Demand beats supply

Austria has long been wooing tourists with the Alps and the likes of Vienna and Salzburg, however. So why the sudden surge in foreign workers?

Hermann Deutsch of Austria's Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Labor said it's a case of demand outstripping supply.

"We quite simply need additional seasonal workers, and see it as a positive thing that we have been able to attract workers from Germany during recent seasons," he said.

Gaststätte in Salzburg Österreich

Salzburg, Austria is seasonally home to many German employees

It's a two-way street in which both employers and their guest employees are happy. For many small businesses, being able to hire German staff is the difference between sinking or swimming, and they go down well with the tourists, a high percentage of which are themselves German.

Michaela Wiatrz, who works as agent for the Federal Labor Office's placement service for hotel and catering staff, says that many of those who seek out seasonal jobs are young and are looking for a chance to use their freshly gained qualifications.

"The industry, by implication, means moving around, and German workers are highly desirable in Austria and Switzerland, both because they can speak the language and because of the high level of training they take with them," she said.

Cause for concern?

Although it sounds like a happy marriage, there is a jealous third party involved in this new nomadic trend. Austria has its own unemployment problems to deal with and there are considerable concerns that German cooks and waitresses are in the business of stealing jobs. But Hermann said such claims do not reflect the reality of the situation.

Köche in einem Restaurant

"There are always those Austrian employees who claim foreign workers put additional pressure on the market and that each additional German is one too many," he said. "Granted, it is important to do everything we can to fill the market gaps with unemployed Austrians, but we can't simply fill all the vacancies with all the jobless, that's too facile."

The expert said he doesn't believe there is any ground for the much mooted theory that the German contingent has triggered a wave of wage dumping. He does, however, concede that because of the high applicant-to-post ratio, there is no need for employers to be excessively generous when it comes to filling the pay packet.

Good working conditions

The fact is that traveling workers who leave Germany will find the conditions and collective wage agreement pay rates in Austria very similar to those at home.

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Pulling pints earns the same in Austria as Germany

"Rates in Austria, which invariably include board and lodging, vary between 1,100 and 1,400 euros ($ 1,346 and $1,713) after deductions for a five or six day week," Wiatrz said. "'But many Germans are financially attracted to the idea of working in Switzerland where they only work a five day week and earn 10 percent more."

That said, Switzerland is a staggeringly expensive place to live. Wiatrz pointed out that the average hospitality industry wage is simply not enough to fill the average Swiss wallet, which is part of the reason for the tourist industry vacancies in the first place.

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