Germany mulls lifting restrictions to workers’ mobility

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As Germany starts to feel the effects of an increasing lack of labour force, officials ponder lifting restrictions to the immigration of workers that were imposed when ten new member states joined the EU in 2004.

The proposals were recently made by Gerd Andres, secretary of state in the German ministry of labour. Speaking to Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, the Social Democrat politician said: “If the lack of labour force in Germany continues to be a problem, we might think of lifting the restrictions even before 2009.” 

Andres added, however, that, in order to avoid social dumping, restrictions could be lifted only for those sectors where the German law on the posting of workers foresees minimum wages. This mainly concerns the construction industry, but Germany is also experiencing a growing labour shortage in professions as diverse as engineering and farm labour. Andres warned farmers that they may not be able to find sufficient workers if they didn’t start paying higher wages to hands from central Europe. 

Anders found support from other labour politicians in his party, as well as from Annette Schavan, the country’s minister for science and research and a member of the Conservative CDU. His proposal was opposed, however, by the Conservative party’s Bavarian branch, the CSU. The CSU’s home affairs speaker, MP Hans-Peter Uhl, said that there were already sufficient possibilities for the German government to bring in workers from abroad. 

Uhl pointed out that, in 2006, 68,000 foreigners had obtained a work permit for Germany. This figure does not cover, however, the vast numbers of undeclared workers in sectors such as construction, cleaning, healthcare and catering, which could be integrated into the German labour market if the country decided to officially open its borders to workers from central and eastern Europe. 

The German government will discuss the proposals when it meets in camera for its first meeting after the summer break, on 24-25 August 2007, in the Brandenburg baroque castle of Meseberg. Ministers will discuss a global revision of the country’s labour policies. In June 2007, the OECD’s International Migration Outlook recommended for Germany to ease the immigration of high-skilled foreign workers. A number of key industries have voiced concern over the growing lack of high-skilled labour in Germany. The German employers’ organisation and the national federation of trade unions have both addressed the governement in favour of ending the restrictions. 

Under the so-called 2+3+2 scheme, the 15 countries that were already EU members before the 2004 enlargement wave have next to declare themselves on restrictions to the mobility of workers from ten new member states in May 2009. Prior to 1 January 2008 and under a similar scheme, EU countries have to decide whether to continue blocking workers from Romania in Bulgaria. 

Germany and Austria are the only countries that have until now not committed to any kind of scheme for gradually lifting the so-called transitory measures before they must definitely end on 1 May 2011 (for workers from the EU-10) and on 1 January 2013 (for citizens of Romania and Bulgaria). 

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