Employees in Germany see biggest drop in wages in more than a decade

The average German worker experienced a one percent drop in real earnings in the pandemic year of 2020, the most significant drop since records began in 2007.

Employees in Germany see biggest drop in wages in more than a decade
Photo: DPA

Numbers published by the Federal Statistics agency showed that huge disruption to working life caused by the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns led to a drop in pre-tax earnings (nominal earnings) of 0.6 percent last year.

“Unlike during the financial and economic crises of 2008/2009, workers in Germany had to accept a drop in nominal earnings in 2020,” the statistics agency commented.

At the same time prices went up by an average of 0.5 percent over the year, leading the agency to conclude that real wages sunk by one percent.

Real wages have only twice dropped over the past 13 years. Following the financial crisis there was a slight decrease of 0.1 percent in real earnings in 2009; and in 2013 a similar decrease of 0.1 percent was recorded in the midst of the Greek debt crisis.

The drop in wages interrupts years of strong wage growth, with six years of consecutive growth of over one percent between 2014 and 2019 while the German economy as a whole was booming.

A central cause of the wage reduction was the massive Kurzarbeit (furlough) programme that the government introduced during the first wave of the pandemic. At the high point in April some 6 million people were on the Kurzarbeit, meaning that they were either not working or were placed on reduced hours.

The state paid a percentage of people’s wages while they were on Kurzarbeit. This money was not included in the statistics agency’s calculations, but is likely to have had a considerable impact on the overall financial picture in German households.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about Germany’s ‘Kurzarbeit’ job support scheme

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EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point.