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Kurzarbeit: Germany bets on tried-and-tested tool for coronavirus jobs crisis

With measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus hobbling Europe's largest economy, Germany is betting heavily on a scheme tested in the financial crisis to keep labour market structures intact.

Kurzarbeit: Germany bets on tried-and-tested tool for coronavirus jobs crisis
An application form for 'Kurzarbeit'. Photo: DPA

Known as “Kurzarbeit”, the measure tops up from government coffers the pay of workers placed on shorter hours by their employer, preserving the contractual relationship for the time when activity rebounds.

Some 470,000 firms have already applied for the aid, labour minister Hubertus Heil said Tuesday, adding that the number of people affected would likely top the peak of 1.4 million seen in the 2009 financial crisis.

Here is how the scheme works and how it has inspired other countries to follow the German example.

How it works

Berlin covers around two-thirds of the salaries of workers whose employers slash their hours after an agreement with the company's works council.

Ministers reduced the threshold for the proportion of workers who must be affected for a company to qualify to 10 percent, from one-third previously.

READ ALSO: Germany gives green light to 1.1 trillion coronavirus aid package

Companies must apply for the aid to the local branch of the BA federal labour agency.

BA payments also cover workers' social contributions, with the whole package lasting up to one year.

When German economic output contracted five percent in 2009, an average of 1.1 million workers were affected over the year, costing Berlin around 10 billion.

By the end of that year, the unemployment rate stood at 7.6 percent — lower than in 2008.

The BA has around 26 billion of reserves, chief Detlef Scheele said Tuesday, while the federal government will also step in with extra funds if needed to cover payouts.

Companies slashing hours

So far the BA is unable to give a figure for exactly how many workers are covered by shorter hours schemes in the coronavirus crisis.

But many household-name companies have announced tens of thousands of employees will be affected.

Car giant Volkswagen has applied to cover 80,000, while BMW reported 20,000 and components maker Continental 30,000.

Construction at Continental's new Hanover site at the beginning of March. Photo: DPA

Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler said “a majority of production and selected administrative areas” would be affected, but did not give precise figures.

Industrial conglomerate Siemens is in talks with worker representatives.

In the chemical sector, mammoth BASF has so far only applied to cover certain sites, but said it would be prepared to launch a broader scheme if needed.

And in services, all of tour operator TUI's 11,000 workers will be on shorter hours from April 1st until September, while airline Lufthansa has requested cover for 31,000 employees until September.

 

Other countries follow suit

Eyeing the German experience of a swifter rebound following the 2009 crunch, major European economies France and Britain have both introduced programmes similar to Kurzarbeit as the battle against coronavirus intensifies.

Paris will cover up to 84 percent of net pay for workers earning up to 4.5 times the minimum wage.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said Wednesday that 337,000 companies had requested the aid to cover 3.6 million employees.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus in Germany: Who will receive financial help – and how much?

Meanwhile London this month said it would “within weeks” cover 80 percent of salaries, paying up to £2,500 ($3,091) per month for people out of work because of the virus.

The scheme will be backdated to March 1 and last initially for three months.

In the US with its less dense social safety net, a $2 trillion rescue package passed by Washington last week provides for one-off payments of $1,200 to Americans earning up to $75,000 annually, plus $500 per child.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

Lots of foreigners in Germany hope to get a job or climb the career ladder. But are there still opportunities for English speakers who don't have fluent German? We spoke to a careers expert to find out.

How easy is it to get an English-speaking job in Germany?

The pandemic turned our lives upside down. As well as having to isolate and be apart from family members, many people found themselves in need of a new job or decided they want a change in career. 

If you’re in Germany or thinking of moving here, job searching is of course easier with German language skills. But many people haven’t had the chance to learn German – or their German isn’t fluent enough to work in a German-only environment.

So how easy is it to find a job in Germany as an English speaker?

We asked Düsseldorf-based career coach Chris Pyak, managing director of Immigrant Spirit GmbH, who said he’s seen an increase in job offers. 

“The surprising thing about this pandemic is that demand for skilled labour actually got even stronger,” Pyak told The Local.

“Instead of companies being careful, they’ve hired even more than they did before. And the one thing that happened during the pandemic that didn’t happen in the last 10 years I’ve observed the job market was that the number of English offers quadrupled.”

READ ALSO: How to boost your career chances in Germany

Pyak said usually about one percent of German companies hire new starts in English. “Now it’s about four percent,” said Pyak. 

“This happened in the second half of 2021. This is a really positive development that companies are more willing than they used to be. That said it’s still only four percent.”

Pyak said he’s seen a spike in demand for data scientists and analysts as well as project managers. 

So there are some jobs available, but can foreigners do anything else?

Pyak advises non-Germans to sell themselves in a different way than they may be used to. 

A woman works on her CV in Germany.

A woman works on her CV in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

“In your home country you have a network, you have a company you used to work for that people know,” said Pyak. “This might be partly the case in Germany if you worked for an international company. But for most employers you are a blank sheet of paper, they know nothing about you. So unfortunately if they don’t know you or your country, they will assume you are worse (at the job) than Germans. It’s completely unjustified but it’s just how people are. 

“Get the employer to see you as the individual person you are, the professional you are. This requires that you have a conversation with somebody inside the company, ideally the decision maker, meaning the hiring manager or someone in this team.”

Pyak said it’s important to go into details. 

“Don’t think of me as a foreigner, think of me as ‘Mark who has been working in IT for 15 years’,” said Pyak. “Don’t read the job advert (to the manager), ask them what his or her biggest worry is and why is that important? And then dig deeper and offer solutions based on your work experience. Share actual examples where you proved that you can solve this problem.”

READ ALSO: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re getting paid

Pyak says foreigners in Germany can convince managers that they are right for the job – even if their German isn’t great. 

“What I advise clients at the beginning of the interview is to ask very politely if you can ask them (managers) a question. And this question should be: how will you know that I’m successful in this job, what is the most important problem I need to solve for you in order to make myself valuable? And then ask why this problem is so important. And the answer to that achieves a million things for you – first of all you’ve established a measurement by which you should be measured. 

“Then when you get into detailed discussion you can always tie your answer back to the question you can solve, which usually makes up 70 or 80 percent of the job. If you can solve this problem then what does it matter if you do the job in German or English?”

So in answer to our original question – it seems that getting an English-speaking job in Germany can’t be described as easy but it is very possible especially if you have the skills in your chosen field. Plus there are ways to increase your chances. Good luck! 

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