As of May 1, people from Poland, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia, will have the same rights to work in Germany as people from other European Union countries. Until now they have needed a work permit.
This should be regarded as a positive development, according to Gunter Pleuger, president of the Viadrina Europe University in Frankfurt an der Oder – as well as Brandenburg's state premier Matthias Platzeck.
But trade union Verdi warned that wages could face downward pressure as workers willing to take low pay could distort the German labour market.
Pleuger said May 1 could further the cause of German-Polish integration. He said the German economy needed well-educated and well-trained workers and these could be found in Poland. He said the German-Polish border regions in particular would benefit from the liberalised labour laws.
Platzeck said that if his state could offer attractive working conditions and wages, “we will get expert workers and will be able to reduce our lack of experts with the help of immigration.”
He said he took the fears of some Germans seriously. “Some fear too much immigration. All experience to date would suggest these fears are unfounded,” he said.
The director of the Institute for Labour Market and Careers Research (IAB) Joachim Möller said he also saw the development positively.
“The fear that opening up the labour market for citizens of the new EU member states could lead to low wages in a broad fashion is something I do not share,” he said.
He said this was based on the fact that German minimum standards would apply to those incoming workers as well as for Germans. But he did say he was sceptical on the effects of those with low qualifications, saying they could affected by competition from Eastern Europe.
Labour Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Sunday she was convinced, “that the workers from the new EU states will help our economic development.”
And Employers' Association president Dieter Hundt said he welcomed workers from abroad, adding that certain technical posts were crying out to be filled.
Yet Frank Bsirske, head of Verdi said he feared pressure on wages. This threatened, “a downwards spiral in which companies which employ labour from Eastern and Central Europe push out those who pay better wages and offer more social working conditions.”
The number of people who might come to Germany each year thanks to the liberalised work laws remains contested. Von der Leyen and the IAB reckon with 100,000 people per year while Frank-Jürgen Weise, head of the Federal Labour Agency (BA) said he expected up to 140,000 to come.