What would a general vaccine mandate mean for the German job market?

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 1 Feb, 2022 Updated Tue 1 Feb 2022 12:04 CEST
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Construction workers lay cables in Schulenberg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

The Covid-19 pandemic barely made itself felt on the unemployment figures in Germany this winter. Could that change if plans for a general vaccine mandate end up going ahead?

As Germany battles its fiercest wave of Covid yet, the impact on the job market has been barely noticeable.

Under the latest figures released in January, around 2.46 million adults were out of work at the start of the year - around 133,000 more than in December.

However, this increase in unemployment can be largely traced back to the so-called 'winter' effect, where seasonal workers and those in industries like construction tend to be laid off. 

Discounting this group of workers, unemployment actually decreased by around 50,000 in January, experts say.

READ ALSO: Working in Germany: 7 factors that can affect how much you’re paid

"The job market got off to a good start in 2022," Daniel Terzenbach, head of the Federal Employment Agency, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Tuesday. Unemployment hasn't risen nearly as much as it usually does in winter, he added.

One reason could be the fact that, despite hefty Covid restrictions on hospitality businesses, most of the people employed in this sector have retained their jobs - albeit on so-called 'Kurzarbeit' (shortened working hours). 

Nevertheless, with the government mulling over a general vaccine mandate for over-18s, there are questions about how such a move could influence Germany's labour market. 

Under current Covid rules, a 3G policy applies in the workplace, meaning employees must present evidence of vaccination, recovery or a negative test in order to come to work on-site. 

READ ALSO: Five things to know about Germany’s new workplace Covid rules

At the moment, privacy laws mean that employers aren't allowed to question their employees on their vaccination status specifically. But this could all change if the government's plans for a general mandate are brought into force. 

According to Detlef Scheele, head of the German Employment Agency, a mandate would give employers the right to enquire about their workers' - and job applicants' - vaccination status. 

If vaccinations were compulsory, companies would probably also be allowed to reject unvaccinated applicants, he added. 

Currently, around 18 percent of working-age adults are unvaccinated in Germany, suggesting that millions of workers could fall afoul of a general mandate if they don't change their minds. 

Benefit sanctions

A key point of contention is whether unvaccinated people unable to enter the job market would be then be entitled to state financial support.

Scheele said that in such cases, his authority would have to check whether unemployment benefits would need to be docked for a certain period time. 

By law, people are generally only entitled to unemployment benefits if they are available to enter the job market, he explained. 

Scheele's comments were met with concern by FDP deputy leader Wolfgang Kubicki, who has long been a vocal opponent of the mandate. 

"It's unbearable for me that people are put in the wrong simply because of their vaccination status," Kubicki said.

The idea of docking unemployment benefits has also been criticised on the left of politics.

Speaking to German daily Bild, Left Party MP Sahra Wagenknecht, who has spoken out about being unvaccinated, described the proposals as "unbelievable". 

Sarah Wagenknecht

Left Party politician Sarah Wagenknecht speaks to the media in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance / Michael Kappeler/dpa | Michael Kappeler

"An occupational ban for unvaccinated people in care and health institutions, loss of earnings in quarantine for non-vaccinated people and now they want to deny unemployment benefits to employees who have not been vaccinated?

READ ALSO: German authorities signal reprieve for unvaccinated health workers

"I find it unbelievable how arbitrariness and social blackmail are rampant here," she said.

Talks are currently underway in the federal government on how to anchor compulsory vaccination in labour law.

As politicians mull over the implementation of the measure, some believe it could be more effective to forbid unvaccinated employees from entering a company than issuing a one-off fine. 

However, the proposals for compulsory jabs are not set in stone yet. German MPs will first have to face a decision between competing pieces of legislation envisioning different types of vaccine mandate - or no mandate at all.

Each of these bills could then falter when it comes to passing the vote in parliament - and if one of them passes, the government could still face opposition when the law comes to be implemented by the states. 

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The Local 2022/02/01 12:04

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