German cabinet approves new rules to simplify labour market

Country has a shortage of qualified labour

Berlin. The German cabinet has approved new labour laws.

Berlin. The German cabinet has approved new labour laws.

 

Germany’s federal cabinet has approved new rules to simplify labour market access to non-EU citizens in a bid to relax a growing shortage of qualified labour.

Now the country’s first-ever skilled immigration labour law - with the tongue-twisting name Fachkräftezuwanderungsgesetz - has to go before parliament.

The new rules were given a warm welcome by industry on Wednesday -- crying out for over one million engineers, carpenters and other skilled workers for trades and manufacturing companies as Germany experiences its lowest post-unification jobless rate.

“The immigration of qualified, skilled personnel is essential to secure growth, prosperity and a stable social system,” said Mr Hans Peter Wollseifer, president of Germany’s Chamber of Crafts.

Unions were more ambivalent, fearing a flood of low-paid foreign workers will undercut their members. Similarly nervous are politicians, fearful of stoking up emotions on Germany’s hottest-button social issue since more than one million largely Muslim refugees and asylum seekers came to Germany in 2015-2016.

The main package allows metal workers, IT technicians and others come to Germany for six months to seek employment - provided they speak German and can support themselves. Another component allows migrants already in Germany, awaiting decisions on their asylum applications, to stay if they are gainfully employed and can show they have integrated.

Senior members of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), long wary of immigration in general and previously opposed to any kind of immigration law - have warned of creating the “wrong incentive” for more people to come to Germany. But they yielded to new political realities - and pressure from their grand coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD).

“This is huge progress,” said Mr Hubertus Heil of the SPD, Germany’s federal labour minister. “After more than 20 years’ debate, Germany gets a modern labour immigration law.”

Pressure for change has been building for years but recent studies have shown a bad situation getting worse. The industry-friendly German Economic Institute (IW) in Cologne estimates a €30 billion price tag for not filling vacancies. Another survey showed 60 percent of companies see a worker shortage as a risk for the development of their businesses. Meanwhile the country that prides itself on its dual training system has 33,000 unfilled apprenticeship places.

Ahead of the Bundestag vote, government ministers insist the new immigration rules are a “pragmatic solution”. They abolish the need for employers to prove they cannot find anyone in the country to fill a vacant position. Officials insist the rules will not attract new arrivals seeking a job as a reason to stay. Instead it opens the labour market to those who cannot leave Germany for their homes because of war or risk of torture.

The far-right, anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) campaigned in last year’s federal election for a migration law along Canadian lines. Now it suggests the new rules offer “fresh incentive for people from around the world to come to Germany”.