Land of the Limited in Time?

More than half of all young German workers do only have term contracts and no long-term job security. Sounds like bad prospects in the economic boom country. However, there seems to be a grain of salt in the statistics. Is it all just “half” as bad after all?

By Jens Kügler

The economy is booming. Germany has a higher employment rate than ever before and the lowest unemployment rate since the aftermath of the reunification in 1990. Yet the recent labor market data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) caused some concern. The results made some media publish reports that seemed to be scaring––at least at first glance. The head and subject lines of the newsletters leading to these posts succeeded in animating the newsletter recipients to open and read more.

About 50% of all Germans up to 24 years do not have a permanent job contract, as the OECD study is cited. Only in the Netherlands, France, Spain and Portugal, that percentage is higher. The authors also refer to a survey of the German Trade Union Federation, according to which the general positive labor market situation does not exist for young people. Among them, the mood is comparatively poor. In this context, there is talk of “scraping through from from one temporary contract to the next.”

But those who read on further also learn about reasons to these amazingly negative figures and statements. One reason which initially surprises is seen in the German dual training system. It’s surprising because this system has always been regarded as a model worldwide with its mix of vocational school and company training. Now, where the heck is the bug in the statistics and lamentations?

Since there is nothing comparable to the German dual education system in the world, international surveys would equalize German apprenticeships with time-limited contracts, as the media colleagues say. German apprenticeships, however, mean naturally limited contracts. So international statistics make something look bad that actually has proved to be good for the domestic economy. Different results come form the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) run by the National Employment Agency. According to his research report, without the trainees just 7.4% of all German workers aged over 15 were only temporarily employed. In particular, about 21% among 15- to 24-year-olds, 12.4% in the 25- to 34-year-olds and only 6.9% for up to 44 year olds had temporary contracts .

So not all that bad? Well, those who actually fight for a contract probably won’t agree. Most of all, the trade unions and those political parties which committed themselves to the working class’ mission surely see it all from a different angle. But on the other hand, they must argue like they do, for many workers’ regular incomes and futures are only safe because of their struggle for permanent employment contracts and for takeover guarantees after apprenticeships. They also ensure social peace and economic stability for the country.

Actually, there are two sides to every coin. Considering this kind of “dual system”, we should also discuss the bad image of temporary work, too. On the positive side, frequent job and workplace shifts expand the knowledge and experience horizon.

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