The broken promise of advancement through work

worker on a construction site

Sectors such as the construction industry, the food industry, agriculture or home care are dependent on foreign workers.

(Photo: imago images/photothek)

Berlin The lowering of formal hurdles for the immigration of workers to Germany planned by the federal government harbors the risk of entrenching precarious employment relationships. This is what the Advisory Council for Integration and Migration (SVR) points out in a new study.

Foreign workers are overrepresented in the low-wage sector, sectors such as the construction industry, the food industry, agriculture or home care are dependent on them, says political scientist Holger Kolb, who headed the SVR research project.

However, the migrants often have hardly any chances of advancement. Low pay, excessive working hours and little upward mobility were part of everyday life for them. “Movement through work becomes precarity despite work,” says Kolb.

However, no employees were interviewed for the study, but experts from authorities, advice centers, social partners or welfare organizations – with a focus on the trade union side.

According to the experts, German law is employee-friendly, but many protection standards continue to be circumvented, especially in the case of foreign employees. “It’s less about the law than law enforcement,” says Kolb.

As an example, he cites the “part-time bricklayer”, where only part of the hours actually worked is properly billed. It also happens, for example, that wages are illegally offset against overpriced rents or the cost of work clothes.

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The researchers write that foreign workers often lack the knowledge or enforcement power to defend themselves against unlawful practices. In particular, the labor rights of foreign workers who have been placed through recruitment agencies or are employed by subcontractors are sometimes systematically circumvented.

In addition to an expansion of advice centers that provide information about the possibility of changing employers, for example, a right to file a collective complaint could help. That would allow unions to sue for workers.

The researchers see the danger of a new social class at the bottom, which is strongly influenced by migrants. They are less concerned with seasonal workers such as harvest workers who want to earn as much money as possible in a short time and then leave Germany again.

It’s about people who want to stay in Germany with their families for a longer period of time or permanently, but who are unable to really participate in social life because they can’t get out of the low-wage sector.


Migrants often have little chance of advancement: low pay, excessive working hours and little upward mobility are part of everyday life for them.

(Photo: IMAGO/Shotshop)

The expansion of the Western Balkans regulation planned by the traffic light coalition certainly makes sense in order to get coveted workers, says Kolb. But the migrants could easily end up in precarious jobs.

In order to relieve the asylum procedure, workers from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, the Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia have been allowed to come to Germany since 2016 without proof of formal qualifications if they have a specific job offer. The federal government wants to double the current quota of 25,000 people per year.

In addition, the federal government wants to enable foreign workers without qualifications to work in Germany for a limited period of time if employers ask for quotas for certain jobs. A possible application would be a renewed shortage of baggage handlers at airports during the travel season.

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For the employer, the employment should be linked to conditions such as collective bargaining or the assumption of travel expenses. The federal government is therefore well aware that otherwise the risk of precarious employment is great, said Kolb.

Even if less importance is to be attached to formal qualifications when workers enter the country in future, the scientists still recommend further reducing the bureaucracy and speeding up the recognition of professional qualifications.

Because even if you succeed in starting your career without formal proof of qualifications, it will later be difficult to advance on the German job market, which is heavily dependent on formalities, without a certificate.

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