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Slavery is alive

With effect from 28.10.2015, the legal provisions for access to the German labour market for people from Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Republic of Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been relaxed. Since 01.01.2016, they can obtain a residence permit for every job in Germany for a limited period until 31.12.2020, even though they do not come from EU countries. They have to apply for a visa to enter the country, they only need the binding commitment of a company, they do not need a certain qualification or knowledge of German. Excluded are temporary agency work activities.

Slavery lives

The Federal Cabinet has now decided to extend this so-called Western Balkans regulation until 2023. A quota for up to 25,000 people per year will be introduced.

The Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Republic of Northern Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are regarded by Germany as so-called ‘safe countries of origin’, people from these countries who apply for asylum have little chance of being granted the application and must assume that they will have to return to their home country.

Since January 2016, however, they have been able to obtain a work visa for Germany, which does not require any knowledge of German and professional qualifications. The prerequisite is that the applicant has an employment contract and that the Federal Employment Agency (BA) agrees. Nor must he have previously received social benefits. The scheme was created in response to the high number of asylum seekers.

There is a great deal of interest in the scheme among employees and companies. Between November 2015 and May 2020, the Federal Employment Agency granted a permit in some 244,000 cases, with just under 58,000 applications rejected. Last year alone, 27,300 visas were issued under Clause 26 (link is external) paragraph 2 of the Employment Ordinance (BeschV (link is external); ‘Regulation on the employment of foreigners’ of a certain nationality).

Young men in particular make use of the opportunity. In 2016 and 2017, 73 percent of immigrants were younger than 40, and 86 percent were men. People were particularly in construction with 44 percent, in the hospitality sector with 13 percent, in health and social care with 11 percent and in other services 10 percent.

Slavery lives

More than half of them (54 percent) worked at the specialist level, while 42 percent worked as helpers. Although no qualification requirements need to be demonstrated, 59 percent of the people have completed vocational training equivalent to at least two years of vocational training in Germany. A further 10 percent even have a university degree, so 69 percent of people who have entered the Western Balkans have completed vocational or higher education. Nineteen percent of women have a college degree, compared to 8 percent of men.

Here it becomes clear that the most mobile people and predominantly well-educated workers are being withdrawn from the Western Balkans and that local companies can save on training costs.

According to the Federal Employment Agency, there is no official evidence from their available data that a high proportion of people enter into “sham employment relationships” or submit fictitious employment commitments for the issuance of visas. The other authorities involved assure the same, also because a change of company would require the approval of the Federal Labour Office and the immigration authorities. But anyone who knows the practice in the northern districts of the Ruhr area cities knows how the hare runs in practice.

In the former working-class districts, the corner pubs have become the real employment agencies, especially for the construction sector, far from the “employment offices and job centres”. There, it is knocked out around the clock who works with whom and with whom. For example, the same workers may be found at two to three construction sites in one day. This flexible work is done on demand via the mobile phone, within a short time work is done on another construction site. The workforce can be used in a completely flexible way and paid in cash, without any insurance or entitlement to benefits.

This is tolerated by the authorities, partly because they no longer have to carry out checks or checks because of the massive staff reductions.

1. Construction

The ‘Central Association of the German Construction Industry’ (ZDB(Link is external)) estimates that about 50,000 construction workers from the Western Balkans work on German construction sites, including so-called iron benders, which are hardly to be found in Germany. The ZDB welcomes the fact that the governing coalition has extended the Western Balkans regime. However, he calls for visas to be issued more quickly in the future “so that people can also enter Germany quickly.”

Slavery lives

The ongoing construction boom is literally snuprisoning for workers, but it has not led to exploding numbers of officially employed workers in a normal working relationship on the construction industry. The current construction system will continue unchanged, and the shortage of construction work offered by large companies will increase profits, based on precarious workers.

Above the diverse employment relationships in the construction sector stands the overall system, which is built like a pyramid.

Level 1

At the top of the pyramid, there is usually a consortium of companies that likes to land public contracts, usually coupled with a potent investor and a good network in local and state politics.

Level 2

After the company consortia come the large subcontractors, which each carry out the individual construction phases and are paid for it. In most cases, they do not award the individual contracts to other, smaller subcontractors themselves, but instead employ workers from other subcontractors. Everyone is under pressure to deliver the work on time. At this level, too, it is essential to have established a good network with other entrepreneurs, including smaller ones.

If the pressure becomes too great, then either groups of construction workers from other companies must be employed by the hour, or bogus self-employed workers from the eastern neighbours or the Balkan countries will be employed to bridge bottlenecks. The workforce can be used in a completely flexible way and paid in cash, without any insurance or entitlement to benefits.

If the deadline is pressed, they will be put back elsewhere and then cover several construction sites at the same time. The workers are usually well-trained professionals, living in their own cars or in rented overcrowded apartments, with usually overpriced daily rent payments.

Level 2 is also the area in the building pyramid where the spectacular company insolvencies take place, which often delay the completion of the construction. Insolvency can help to wind up the debts of creditors, to leave out the money housed in the tax haven, to ignore the invoices of the craft enterprises and to register a new business as a “second chance” or to start a new business.

Level 3

As already mentioned, in the context of flexible labour input, bogus self-employed workers, formerly mostly portuguese, now more likely to have Polish passports or under the Western Balkans scheme, are employed by level 2 subcontractors. There is only work against cash, because this is the only way to guarantee flexibility.

The bogus self-employed could and can secure their stay through this employment, but must first get into debt in order to finance a vehicle, material and accommodation. They are able to smooth the time pressure and can put together the number of workers, mostly compatriots, precisely for the order.

The cash received by the bogus self-employed person is passed on with deduction of the own share. Social security contributions, taxes, health insurance contributions, professional associations and pension insurance contributions are not paid. After having earned a good name from the subcontractors over the months, the bogus self-employed person can be selected by level 2 to also receive larger orders and turn on the bigger wheel. Then suddenly up to 30 workers are mobilized, who are accommodated in low-cost hotels and do the larger orders in exchange for cash and unannounced.

For the bogus self-employed person, this will be fine for a while until the customs or tax office, the health and pension insurance or the public prosecutor come to the fore. It is not uncommon for prison sentences to be imposed and the public creditors file a bankruptcy application for the assets of the bogus self-employed person.

Slavery lives

The person concerned, to whom all loans are also due, usually does not know what is happening and how he should behave. In some cases, they do not have the language competence to behave appropriately, not to mention the legal obligations of an employer, and find a prison sentence completely excessive, especially since they have experienced the system on German construction as the normality.

A new victim of the bau system has replaced the bogus self-employed person, who was once allowed to play on level 2 for a short time, so the whole thing goes on and on.

Level 4

The workers, which level 3 is currently looking for, are found on the day and hourly labour market, and for skilled work on the construction, the workers are approached directly by buses from the eastern neighbours, recruit from the Western Balkans regulation or come here themselves in their cars.

The workers are housed on a temporary basis, often having to pay high rents for the sleeping place in the run-down house. Many stay in their cars. During their stay, they are generally not covered by accident or health insurance.

Slavery lives

If they fit well into the Building system, they will be admitted to level 3 despite poor language and legal knowledge and will take part in the game as bogus self-employed people. However, the majority of them are available to the labour market as day and hourly workers. They accept all this in order to keep their families afloat in their country of origin. This is where these extremely mobile and well-educated workers are missing.

Now the trade union IG BAU celebrated itself and that there should continue to be two industry minimum wages and thus “wage holding lines down” – especially for technical work . The arbitrator’s ruling, which ended the minimum wage collective bargaining process at the end of 2019, means that the minimum wage for auxiliary work on construction (minimum wage 1) has been raised nationwide by 35 cents to 12.55 euros per hour from April 1, 2020, and the second minimum wage for specialist work (minimum wage 2) will increase by 20 cents to 15.40 euros per hour. According to the union, it has been possible to fend off the “attack on the previous minimum wage system” and to avoid a relapse to the statutory minimum wage of 9.35 euros per hour, which will apply from January 2020.

But nothing substantial will change in everyday practice on the construction site, as the companies with clever work contracts (link is external) also try to undermine the statutory minimum wages and employ more and more migrant workers.

What is the use of a generally binding industry minimum wage if the entrepreneur pretends to be a subcontractor for the construction companies under a contract for work?

2. Gastronomy area

About 13 percent of the workers who work under the Western Balkans scheme work in the catering sector, an industry that has been sufficiently subsidised by the state for two decades. In the meantime, it is almost only working with mini-jobs, on a salary on which people cannot live and who have to apply for unemployment benefit II from the job centres. Last year, for example, around EUR 1 billion went into the catering sector as a state wage subsidy. This sector, too, benefits greatly from the Western Balkans regime.

The ‘Deutsche Hotel und Gaststättenverband e.V.’ (DEHOGA(Link is external)) as the employers' and employers' association of the hospitality industry welcomes the extension of the Western Balkans regulation and had called for further flexibility in advance. This sector has already benefited particularly from the labour force from the Balkan countries, as DEHOGA had previously increasingly promoted a company policy which had led to a strong turnover within the workforce. This policy is falling on their feet today. According to the motto “If it doesn’t suit you here, go somewhere else”, the skilled workers have migrated and now they are constantly looking for cheap labour replacement.

The living and working situation of employees

Working in the catering sector seems to be a rather casual affair for outsiders. But if you look behind the scenes, a completely different picture emerges:

Waiters, chefs and bartenders often have to stand for a long time. It is not uncommon for them to lift and wear or adopt a rigid working posture. In addition, there is often insufficient workplace design.

Nearly a third of catering workers are exposed to noise, with more than four per cent concerned about their health.

They often work in hot or cold working environments. If open doors still provide for draughts, or if the employee has to work alternately in warm rooms and immediately afterwards in cold or damp rooms – such as cargo spaces, the risk of damage to health increases.

When the sharp knife slips: cut wounds and burns are particularly common in the catering industry. There is also a high risk of employees slipping, stumbling or falling – for example, because the floor is wet and slippery. They are also exposed to hazardous substances. These include, for example, frequently used cleaning agents.

But employees in the catering industry are not only exposed to physical stress:

This is partly due to irregular working hours. Because the employees usually work in long shifts and have not only irregular but also unusual working hours. Because they mostly work when other people are free.

The workload is high. About 75 percent of employees say they work at a high rate, two-thirds say they work under high time pressure and nearly half say they don’t have enough time to do their job.

This is why it is difficult for employees in the catering sector to reconcile work and family life – especially because working hours are often unpredictable and the individual working days are long.

The constant contact with me customers also carries risks. It can be a stress factor and, in the worst case, cause harassment or violence.

Employees in low-paid jobs and a high occupational burden, for example, waiters, have much higher health risks to bear than in other occupations. The risk of a heart attack or stroke increases by more than 50 percent for waiters. This is due not only to the greatly increased stress factor, but also to the fact that stressed people are less careful about their bodies and tend to smoke more often or consume excessive alcohol.

Research shows that the stress factor depends not only on the level of workload, but also on how much a person feels respected and valued in their role. Waiters, for example, suffer not only from professional pressure, but also from unfriendly guests, poor management and incompatible working hours.

This combination allows stress to have its worst effect. Many employees can only do this with the help of “Mother’s Little Helpers” and then have an additional, an addiction problem.

Trade union commitment quickly reaches its limits

The Union for Food and Drink Restaurants (NGG(Link is External)) is the largest operating union in the industry, with 205,908 members nationwide, representing 3.4 percent of the total number of Members of the DGB Unions. Their influence is correspondingly limited, which is partly due to a strong turnover of staff in small companies.

The catering industry is not particularly popular in many trade union circles as it is considered difficult to organise. Especially in the larger trade unions, which are primarily concerned with attracting new members, this sector is often left out, partly because the companies are usually not very large and therefore not attractive enough to attract a large number of new members.

With the low degree of organisation in companies, there is a general distrust of trade unions. The union is usually not part of the company, so it has a hard time getting an insight. It is often dependent on receiving information from employees.

If there are individuals who turn to the union, they can be advised, but nothing more. In order to organise the employees, it is necessary to inspire more than one individual in addition to one-off consultation for trade union work or to win over an internal trade union organisation.

Above all, there is a lack of high-profile strikes in the industry, which ignite a mobilisation, as demonstrated by the strikes in the retail and educational professions. Women in particular took to the streets with commitment, and even managed to defy the union officials through pressure from below, intra-union participation and a little more democracy.

3. Health and social care / care sector

The “care” term describes the work content and the relationship aspects of care work. The professions in the care sector are demanding, demanding and socially indispensable.

The difference with other employment sectors is that care work is important for the economy as a whole, as it only makes it possible for many people to work. It is also different from most sectors of industry, where strong trade unions face large, uniform employers' associations and negotiate collective agreements for whole sectors. On the other hand, in care work, the landscape of industrial relations is institutionally and regionally fragmented. This leads to different working conditions in this sector.

The care sector will increase enormously in the future and the demand for labour will increase accordingly. However, it is doubtful whether the current framework conditions can attract enough people for this socially important work. Moreover, it is not advisable to allow a rapidly growing sector of the economy with difficult working conditions, which has a negative impact on the social fabric of the labour market as a whole.

The calls for better working conditions and pay are well founded. This became clear once again during the powerful clashes in the daycare strikes with the slogan “We are worth it”. However, the framework conditions for care work in Germany are not negotiated in public discourse, but in the context of industrial relations between employers' organisations and trade unions.

The competitive pressure, for example in the care sector, has led to the fact that there has been little room for manoeuvre for upgrading the professions and better working conditions, or that this room for manoeuvre has not been used by social economy companies. It would be unwise to continue along this path.

Under the Western Balkans scheme, 11 percent of the workforce was employed in the health and social care sector in 2019. Many of these people live with us in complete isolation. Whether in private care facilities or in 24-hour service in private households, often as health professionals, far from adequate social security, adequate remuneration, fair access to social benefits, controlled working conditions with sufficient leisure and recreation and decent living conditions.

Private providers of social services

It is no wonder that the ‘Federal Association of Private Providers of Social Services e.V.’ (bpa(Link is external)) welcomes the extension of the Western Balkans regulation, but it criticises the fixed quota of 25,000 people in the future. He stresses: “In order to secure the supply, we must be able to meet our staffing needs. A restriction is counterproductive to this, because vacancies do nothing but lack of care for people in need of care” and points out in this context that the need for nurses will grow much faster in the coming years, given the increase in the number of people in need of care."

In other words, the business model of private providers will continue to guarantee lucrative profit, provided that the cheap, flexible and exploitable people, including those from the Western Balkans programme, are required.

“24-Hour Care”

A similarly lucrative business model is the “24-hour care”, which has developed into an independent pillar within the German care system in recent years. With the here mostly Eastern European care workers one assumes at present a number corridor of 100,000 to 600,000 employees, because with such a “gray to black labor market” the estimates must naturally fluctuate.

Here, too, the figures show what gaps would arise if only a part of the Eastern European care workers were no longer available or if German labour and social law were applied, which would also lead to an immense increase in the cost of care at home, which would no longer be borne by most households with the existing care financing.

As a rule, self-employed persons are supposed to work in this area, but in fact, according to our legal structure, they work practically around the clock as bogus self-employed persons in private households. With these people, there is a great risk of all false self-employment, that it can come to a subsequent determination of the social insurance obligation, so that contributions and taxes must be paid.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for private households to find suitable and willing care workers from the eastern neighbouring countries. You have to search further afield. This is where the Western Balkans arrangement is formally appropriate, with devastating consequences for these countries.

According to a recent study by the ‘Vienna Institute for international economic comparisons’, the number of specialists coming from eastern and South - Eastern Europe is constantly increasing, creating major problems in their countries of origin: if you look at the rate of doctors and nurses per 100,000 inhabitants, it is only slightly more than half as large in Poland as in Germany, and it is still significantly lower in Albania.

4. Other Services

In the statistics on the Western Balkans regulation, around 10 percent of the workforce is listed undifferentiated under the area of ‘other services’, which are probably predominantly activities in the transport sector or in the transport and logistics professions. This booming division is still recording high growth percentages and is desperately looking for workers.

Working conditions in transport and logistics occupations

The working conditions in this area are characterized by high physical demands, coupled with a high work intensity, little room for manoeuvre and extremely frequent physical exhaustion and discomfort.

The' Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin ' (BAuA (link is external)) came to the following results after a survey among the two major occupational groups “warehousing, Post and delivery, goods handling” (logistics) and “Vehicle Management in road traffic” (vehicle management):

The investigation results of the DGB also go in the same direction. In the approximately 5,000 conversations that were held with drivers, it was often shown that the drivers do not know what rights they are entitled to. Their assumption is often that only the labour law of the country in which they signed their employment contract is valid for them. And this despite the fact that the majority of drivers do not work in the country where the employment contract was signed. In addition, drivers generally have no knowledge of the legal minimum wage applicable in Germany, which is valid for them if they are employed in Germany.

The case of a Czech driver who had regularly driven for Deutsche Post AG on behalf of a Czech company became particularly important. He had received the Czech minimum wage of 450 euros per month-plus expenses of 1,000 euros-even though he would have been entitled to the German statutory minimum wage. On the basis of advice from the Union, the driver decided to sue Deutsche Post AG retrospectively. Since the company wanted to avoid a decision in principle, it was prepared to make a supplementary payment based on the minimum wage in Germany. This case has been widely received, especially in the Czech Republic, and has developed an enormous appeal.

In everyday practice, in addition to the physical, there are also the hard-to-bear psychological stresses among the employees. Due to a lack of knowledge in the German language, communication problems occur when the TAXI driver means to the passenger: “you say-I drive” and asks the passenger to play the Navigator, since the driver has no local knowledge. With the parcel delivery men, who are still in the big cities at 7.30 pm in the evening, it increasingly happens that a communication does not come about at all, it seems that the driver can only 2 German words, which he always repeats: “your address?”.

Global labor market to squeeze wages and pit workers against each other

Germany is one of the countries that benefits most from the influx of highly qualified workers from poorer regions of Europe.

While the wage-dependent people from Western Balkan countries are recruited by the federal government, the resulting labour requirements are met by people from other countries, such as Asian countries. Their working conditions in the Western Balkan countries have then once again been extremely deteriorated, the employees are still further disenfranchised and employment relationships are even more deregulated. This process has been set in motion worldwide, a global rotation process with the largest losing people from the southern countries.

Although the workers are part of a globalised labour market, they are nevertheless subject to the special forms of nation-state-regulated exploitation.

Experience in the past has shown that nationalist demands to protect one’s working conditions through isolation quickly turn out to be illusionary, as existing law is usually massively undermined. Through the Western Balkan regulation, it is still possible for us that legal labor migration from the Western Balkans is supplemented by further developed illegal employment, which is carried out by hourly and day laborers. The extension of the regulation is an extension of the license for exploitation for local companies.

The trade unions are called upon to become more involved in the migrant struggles and at the same time to do more international solidarity work to harmonise labour Standards.