German firms apply for Kurzarbeit for nearly 12 million workers during coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus crisis has prompted German firms to seek government-backed shorter hours schemes for a total of 11.7 million workers since March, official data showed Wednesday.

German firms apply for Kurzarbeit for nearly 12 million workers during coronavirus pandemic
An application form for the Kurzarbeit process. Photo: DPA

Known as “Kurzarbeit”, the measure – which has been widely copied abroad – 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.

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

Companies must apply for the aid at their local branch of Germany's Federal Agency for Employment (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), which oversees the scheme.

In May, German companies applied to the Kurzarbeit scheme for a further 1.06 million people, the the BA Federal Labour Agency said. That adds to the 10.66 million people who were already registered on the programme since the start of the crisis.

Experience shows, however, that the number of people actually working reduced hours is significantly lower, because companies often seek to enter the scheme as a precautionary measure.

According to projections, 2.02 million people received payouts through the scheme in March alone – the month when the coronavirus lockdown began. This is the highest figure ever measured. The previous record dates back to May 2009, when 1.44 million people had taken advantage of short-time working during the financial crisis at the time.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Kurzarbeit in Germany when working hours are reduced

Unemployment up

Meanwhile the unemployment rate rose to 6.3 percent in May, the equivalent of some 2.8 million people, from 5.8 percent in April, the Federal Agency said.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, German unemployment had held steady at around 5.0 percent for a long time.

“The labour market is under severe pressure because of the corona pandemic,” said Detlef Scheele, Chairman of the Executive Board of the Federal Agency. “Kurzarbeit has clearly exceeded the level of 2009.

“Companies' demand for employees remains on a downward trend, but is no longer in freefall,” he added.

The shorter hours scheme is part of a trillion-euro economic support package decided as the pandemic broke over the country in March.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition government is hammering out details of a post-coronavirus relaunch plan expected to offer tens of billions of euros of new cash.

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Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”