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Opel workers protest GM cutback plans

Several thousand Opel auto workers took to the streets on Thursday as part of Europe-wide protests against cutbacks by US carmaker General Motors.

Opel workers protest GM cutback plans
Photo: DPA

Organisers said between 15,000 and 18,000 people took part in a rally at Opel’s main German plant at Ruesselsheim, near Frankfurt, carrying banners proclaiming “Yes we can” and “Fighting back makes the difference.”

“Opel must live,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the demonstrators, fearful for their livelihood as the beleaguered US parent company bids to slash thousands of jobs across Europe.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who will challenge Chancellor Angela Merkel in legislative elections in September, added: “Opel is not just about cars, it is about the people who go to the factory every day.”

He said it was “unacceptable” and “disgraceful” that GM was not safeguarding their jobs.

Peter Giesser, a member of Opel’s works council, said rallies were also expected at GM plants in Spain, Britain, Belgium and Poland.

In Sweden, employees at Saab, another GM subsidiary, were to stage a rally in the southwestern city of Trollhattan, location of Saab’s main Swedish plant with 3,700 workers.

A works council member at an Austrian GM subsidiary, which employs 1,850 workers at a site near Vienna, called for a “European rescue plan” for GM companies, a call echoed by Steinmeier.

GM, which is still threatened with bankruptcy and on Thursday announced a $9.6 billion loss in the fourth quarter, has drawn up a European restructuring plan that would eliminate thousands of jobs.

The US firm has also said it wants to get rid of Saab, which currently benefits from a Swedish court ruling that has helped it to avoid going under. As for Opel, GM is mulling partnerships with outside investors or selling off stakes to keep the company going. In each case, the US group has appealed to public authorities in Europe for aid.

Merkel told reporters earlier Thursday that Germany wants to “build bridges” to help companies afflicted by the crisis and that the government’s preferred method of support for Opel would be to provide loan guarantees. However, she warned that the government would not continue to finance companies with “structural weaknesses.”

The demonstrators called for Opel to split from its parent company, carrying banners saying, “better without GM.”

One employee, Marc Rost, who has worked for Opel for 18 years said the workers “want our bosses to see us as human beings … not as machines that can be dismantled.” Like his fellow marchers, Rost, 39, said he was scared that the site would close and he would lose his job.

“All this will no doubt end up in total chaos,” Andy, a 20-year-old apprentice at Opel, told AFP.

Opel is set to hold a crunch meeting Friday to debate a restructuring plan, which German authorities have said is a pre-requisite for talks over aid. Germany’s Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told a news conference he plans to speak to German regional leaders on Saturday about Opel’s plight.

In a cruel twist of fate, Opel is actually increasing output because of strong demand for its compact models during hard times. The company said this week it has dropped plans for slowing production at its plant in the eastern city of Eisenach, which makes the Corsa model. Instead, it will now assign additional teams there.

Demand for the Corsa has also been boosted by a government €2,500-incentive scheme that encourages drivers to turn in old cars for new models that pollute less.

At the end of 2007, GM Europe employed more than 55,000 people, primarily in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Poland, Spain, and Sweden.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

Taking the decision to go it alone and freelance in Germany can be a daunting prospect. But, if you do it right, it can be an exciting and liberating path. Here are some of our top tips on how to survive.

7 tips for how to survive as a freelancer in Germany

1. Get a tax advisor

The German tax system is complicated, even for Germans. All the associated paperwork uses the Amtsprache (authority language) which is more like legalese than ‘normal’ German, and mistakes when filling out tax forms can cause you, at best, a massive headache and, at worst, a costly fine. So it’s best that you employ someone who knows what they’re doing to help you out.

That person is called a Steuerberater (tax advisor) in Germany. They will help you register with the tax office, correspond with them and submit your tax declarations.

Be aware that, in Germany, different deadlines apply for tax returns depending on whether you employ an official tax advisor or not. If you are doing the tax return on your own, the deadline for submitting your annual tax return is earlier than if you use a tax advisor’s services. 

READ ALSO: What NOT to do when you’re freelancing in Germany

When looking for a tax advisor, a top tip is to use your network to get recommendations. Ideally, you want someone who will do more than just fill in the forms for you, but who will actually advise you on how best to manage your business finances so that you can make tax savings.

2. Keep your accounting in order

The better you keep your own accounts in order, the easier it will be for your tax advisor to compile your tax declarations and therefore the cheaper their services will be.

As a freelancer, there are a lot of costs you can deduct from your taxes – from train tickets, working materials, to meals out – so it’s best to keep hold of all your receipts and to keep them in good order.

2 euros and 50 cents lie on a receipt in a beer garden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Peter Kneffel

In Germany, you’re obliged to keep hold of receipts for two years, in case of a tax inspection, so it’s a good idea to photocopy the type of machine-printed receipts you get from restaurants so that they stay legible for a long time.

There are also a few things to be aware of when writing your own invoices. Firstly, make sure that you include your tax number. This isn’t the 11-digit Steueridentifikationsnummer that everyone gets when registering in Germany, but the 10-digit Steuernummer you get from the Finanzamt after registering yourself as a freelancer. 

Most companies won’t pay you if you don’t have this on your invoices so make sure you include it.

You should also make sure that you number your invoices properly – ideally in ascending order so that you can easily keep track of them. You are not allowed to issue two invoices with the same number and if you do so and the finance office notices, you could face an inspection of your whole accounting system.

There are numerous great accounting software programmes you can use to help you, such as Lexoffice and Sevdesk and, even if you have to pay for them, the costs will be tax deductible!

3. Find out if you’re eligible for financial support

In Germany, there are several opportunities for freelancers to gain financial support and to cut their outgoings, and its worth finding out if you’re eligible for them.

If you’re claiming unemployment benefits under ALG 1 and are thinking about becoming a freelancer, the employment office offers a special type of financial support to help you to get your freelance business off the ground.

Called the Grundungszuschuss (“foundation grant”) the payment is a six-month grant equalling your monthly entitlement under ALG 1 plus €300 towards your insurance costs can be applied for those in receipt of this unemployment benefit.

READ ALSO: Will freelancers benefit from Germany’s €300 energy allowance?

If you are engaged in some form of artistic profession in Germany – which can include journalism to pottery – you may be entitled to membership to the Kunstlersozialkasse (artists’ social insurance).

Being a member of the KSK means you only have to pay half of your health insurance and pension contributions, and the KSK will pay the rest.

4. Work out how much you think you will earn

As with starting any business, you need to have some idea of your expected earnings from the outset.

If you’re just starting out as a freelancer, or have some freelance gigs on the side of an employment position, then it might be worth considering registering yourself as a Kleinunternehmer (“small business”).

As a Kleinunternehmer, you can currently earn up to €22.000 per year without having to charge VAT and having to submit only yearly tax declarations. 

An income tax declaration form lies on a table. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Hans-Jürgen Wiedl

Be aware that if you are registered as this kind of freelancer, you must include the following sentence in your invoices: ‘Gemäß § 19 UStG wird keine Umsatzsteuer berechnet’ which means ‘In accordance with Paragrah19 of the German VAT law, no VAT has been added to this invoice.’

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about your German tax return in 2022

If you think you will earn more than €22.000 per year, you will need to pay Umsatzsteuer (VAT) and will have to submit tax declarations in advance and more often. Depending on how much you earn, this could be every month or every quarter. 

5. Get your insurance in order

In Germany, it’s a legal requirement to have health insurance.

If you’ve just made the move from employment to being a freelancer and want to keep the same health insurer, you should get in contact with your health insurance provider straight away to tell them about your change of circumstances. They will ask you to re-register and to tell them your projected freelance earnings for the year, so they can amend your monthly fees.

If you don’t keep your health insurer provider updated, you could continue to be charged the higher rate that you had from your previous salary.

The insurance cards of the health insurance companies DAK, AOK, Barmer and Techniker-Krankenkasse TK lie with euro notes under a stethoscope. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

It’s not just health insurance you need to think about as a freelancer. It’s also wise to think about protecting yourself from any sort of claims that could arise as a result of any working mishaps. 

If, for example, you lose your laptop which contains confidential client information, you need to be protected against claims.

That’s why it’s good to have both Betriebshaftversicherung (business liability insurance) and Rechtschutzversicherung (legal protection insurance).

6. Plan your time wisely

All of these bureaucratic obligations take time. So it’s really important that you take account of that when planning your time. For example, planning half a day a week to deal with your invoices, filing, emails to clients, and conversations with authorities can be really beneficial when scheduling your working time. 

7. Grow your network

As a freelancer, networking is absolutely crucial to success. 

Keep an up-to-date profile on websites like LinkedIn and German equivalent XING and keep in contact with anyone you’ve ever worked with, no matter how brief the contact was. 

Having a network is not only about getting more clients, but also about building a support network in your field to exchange advice, tips and generally for your own enrichment. 

Participating in workshops related to your field, going to seminars, and meet-ups, can be great ways of broadening your network. 

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