German teachers rally against low pay

German language teachers demonstrated in Berlin on Wednesday, complaining that their work in integrating foreigners into German society is not given the financial recognition it deserves.

German teachers rally against low pay
Photo: DPA

The demonstration, organised by the Community College Federation (DVV) protested against what it say are wages so low that they amount to less than half of what qualified and fully employed state school teachers earn.

The teachers also complain their pensions are not enough to keep them out of poverty in old age.

The DVV is calling for the government to set aside an extra €180 million per year to tackle the problem.

“Despite the fact that we are highly qualified, we only earn €1,200 per month,” said Brigitte Rilke, a teacher at the state-funded Volkshochschule (VHS) and one of the event’s organizers, to The Local.

“And from this salary, we have to pay social contributions as well as health insurance.”

Rilke said that despite years working as a German teacher, she still could not afford a car and could only pay a low rent.

Teaching German for “integration courses” has existed for a decade as a standardized profession. There are roughly 22,000 teachers across the country who provide courses in government-financed institutions, such as the VHS, to migrants starting their lives in Germany.

“I love my job. I also have the qualifications to work in a high school and earn up to €4,000 per month, but that’s not what I want.

“But as things are, I am going to have to keep working as long as I am fit enough to stand at a table,” said Rilke.

The pension for German teachers is limited to €600 per month and that is only for those who have worked a full 39 years. Those who have not worked so long must make do with less.

The demonstration was planned to coincide with a meeting of the federal government with heads of the German states to haggle over the costs of integrating refugees into German society.

While the states and the federal government barter over the amount of money that will be attributed to housing and other issues, it is unclear whether increased salaries for the people who teach them will be on the table.

But the teachers also seem to have limited options at their disposal.

“Part of the problem is that we are freelance contractors. This means that it is difficult to strike. We wouldn’t get paid for a start. And many teachers fear that they wouldn’t be offered work afterwards,” Rilke said.

‘It’s never come up’

One current student at the Berlin VHS told The Local that among her classmates there is little awareness of the financial situation of their teachers.

“We [the students] take coffee breaks together every class and it has never really come up,” said Barbara Woolsey, a journalist from Canada who is taking night classes twice a week, to The Local. 

“If I knew that teachers were leaving the profession because of bad pay, I think that would be a real shame,” she said.

“Teachers are such an important part of society. Especially as an expat, I know how much doing German classes have benefited me.”

Woolsey was full of praise for the VHS, commending it for the low cost of classes and the leg up it has given her in her career.

“Speaking German is so important. It’s really hard to get a job if you don’t have the language skills,” she pointed out.

Germany has had to cope with record numbers of immigration in recent years. Last year saw over half a million people move to the Bundesrepublik, the highest number since records began in 1967.

Many of these immigrants arrive in Germany with little or no German language skills, a necessity for most forms of work.

The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees was not available for comment.

With AFP

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What Germany’s plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

To tackle its ever-widening skills gap, Germany wants to encourage talent from aboard to move to the country by introducing a points-based immigration system. Here's what foreigners need to know about the changes.

What Germany's plans for a points-based system mean for foreigners

What’s a points-based system?

A points-based system is an immigration model where foreigners have to score above a certain threshold of points in order to obtain a residence or work permit in a country. The exact scoring system is set by the government, but can include factors like language skills, family connections to the country, specific qualifications or work-related skills, or the amount of money in your bank account. 

Points-based systems can also be known as “merit-based systems”, because there tends to be a pretty big emphasis on what you can offer a country in terms of education or skills. 

The model was first introduced in Canada way back in 1967 as the country tried to move past a system based on race and nationality to one that favoured language fluency, youth and educational or vocational background. A similar step was taken in Australia just a few years later in 1972 and, since Brexit, the UK has also introduced its own points-based model. 

How does this relate to Germany?

When the new ‘traffic-light’ coalition of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) took office last December, the parties pledged to reform Germany’s immigration system and bring a fresh cohort of workers into the country.

“In addition to the existing immigration law, we will establish a second pillar with the introduction of an opportunity card based on a points system to enable workers to gain controlled access to the German labour market in order to find a job,” the coalition agreement read.

This would apply to third-country nationals who don’t otherwise have the right to live and work in the country. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What Germany’s new government means for citizenship and naturalisation

German language course poster

A sign advertising German courses. Language skills can count towards points in a points-based system. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Bernd Wüstneck

FDP migration specialist Dr. Ann-Veruschka Jurisch, who is working on these reforms, says the policy is driven by Germany’s desperate need for workers. 

“The Liberal Party (FDP) is convinced that we need more labour migration,” she told The Local. “We do have a lot of options for coming into Germany as a labour migrant – but it’s a bit complicated – and if you want to come to Germany to search for a job and you don’t come from an EU country, it’s much more difficult.”

That’s why the coalition is aiming to offer a second route for people who don’t have job lined up in Germany, but who otherwise have the skills or talent to find one. 

What will this look like?

The plans for the points-based system are still at an early stage, so the exact criteria haven’t been worked out yet.

What’s clear at this stage, however, is that the points-based option would run parallel to the current model, which generally permits people with a concrete job offer in a skilled profession to come and work in the country. 

“It’s about (people having) a good opportunity to come to Germany when they have either a job offer in sight or a direct job offer,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said in response to parliamentary question in January. 

“Next to that, we want to achieve a further possibility for talent – for qualified men and women whose skills we need in Germany, who still don’t have a work contract but, if given access, could use that opportunity. That’s what we’re talking about with this Canadian points-based system. It shouldn’t replace our current system, but rather improve it.”

In short, that means that people with a job lined up won’t be disadvantaged – but there will be alternative routes for those without them. It also won’t affect the EU blue card scheme

READ ALSO: ‘I finally feel at home’: How Germany’s planned changes to citizenship laws affect foreigners

Will people need formal qualifications? 

Probably not – though it will obviously depend on the sector someone works in and their level of experience in their chosen field.

“I personally am convinced that you shouldn’t place too much emphasis on formal qualifications, because it’s very complicated getting your formal qualifications recognised in Germany,” said Jurisch.

“A medical doctor, for example, is one where you can’t say, ‘Okay, you’ve got some experience so we don’t need to see your papers.’ But there are a lot of other jobs which do not have this restriction and they are not formalised but rather based on practical experience.”

Carpenter wood

A carpenter sands down a block of wood in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Federico Gambarini

The issue of recognising qualifications is also a problem that the traffic-light coalition has set their sights on solving during their time in office.

At the moment, the process of getting qualifications officially recognised in Germany is done on a state-by-state basis, so somebody who gets their degree recognised in Brandenburg may have to redo the entire process again in Bavaria, for instance.

According to Jurisch, there have already been conversations between the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs and the Ministry of Education on the issue, and Labour Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) has also promised to take steps to solve it.

But, she said, it’s complicated: “I’ve started to dive into this issue, and the more I dive into it, the more complicated it becomes – so there are no silver bullets.” 

How many workers are needed – and where? 

In order to plug its labour shortages, Germany needs around 400,000 new workers every year, according to the Federal Employment Agency. In 2020, Germany’s net migration was just 200,000 and 150,000 people of working age entered retirement – which means the country is currently falling well short of its targets. 

“We have shortages everywhere,” Jurisch said. “We need 400,000 new workers every year, and these people won’t be born in Germany – or if they are, they won’t grow up for another 20 years.

“We haven’t managed to get more women into the labour market, or they work part time, so I don’t think this will make a big difference, and I don’t think we will close the gap by training people.”

In this sense, it seems that immigration is the only option for filling major staff shortages in almost every profession. 

“Whoever I talk to, be it nurses, nannies, IT workers, industrial workers, teachers, lawyers – everywhere we have a shortage,” Jurisch said.

staff shortages Germany

A sign outside a restaurant informs customers of a closure due to staff shortages. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

When will the points-based system be introduced?

Unlike with the plans to reform citizenship, which the SDP-led Interior Ministry wants to achieve by the end of the year, there’s no firm timeline in place for the points-based system.

However, the FDP is fighting for the policy to be given higher priority and would like to introduce the new visa system before the next federal election in 2025. 

“I hope it will be done in this legislative period,” said Jurisch. “I’m pushing to get it a little bit higher up on the agenda.” 

READ ALSO: INTERVIEW: ‘Changing German citizenship laws is a priority’