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WORKING IN GERMANY

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

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?

Construction workers lay cables in Schulenberg, Lower Saxony
Construction workers lay cables in Schulenberg, Lower Saxony. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Moritz Frankenberg

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. 

Member comments

  1. So not only will unvaccinated be kicked out of their jobs. The government won’t help them so they get kicked out of their homes. Jobs only for the vaccinated. Homes only for the vaccinated.
    Anybody agreeing with this should genuinely hold their heads in shame. This isn’t just wrong. This is what leads to atrocities. It looks like Germany hasn’t learned a thing. Words fail me. How is this acceptable.

    And my comment gets censored. For what? For being concerned that we are doing to a significant minority of the population is morally bankrupt. Appears we can no longer have dissenting opinions.

    The lamps are going out all over Germany. I fear, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time

    1. The two are not one in the same. But thats fine. No atrocities have been committed because the ex pope probably touched children too.

      Forced vaccination as written in history books has a track record per say. In Germany.

      Just to be sure. None of the covid vaccines stop you from passing it on. Or catching it. Or getting sick. Or dying. They have only ever claimed that it will reduce symptoms. So by getting it you are not protecting anyone but yourself. Thats fine. If you want to get one for yourself every 3 months or every 3 years. That fine. You go do you.

      I absolutely draw the line at forcing anything on anyone who doesn’t want it. I realise the danger that could and does pose for people who could really suffer should they have the misfortune of catching a bad case of covid. We should try to protect these people. (2 years in I still go shopping for elderly neighbours because that’s the right course of action im not stabbing them, in their arms. For their own good.)

      The great big elephant in the room no one really wants to talk about is where a persons right to self determination and the collective “greater good” merge. And also why? Why does one person have a right to a free life over another. Should we force vaccination on people? If so why? To what end?

      Your not the first to criticize my view. Thats fine, prove me wrong and I will learn from it. But rather than just tell me im wrong because I dont share your point of view. Explain to me why I am wrong to draw these similarities. Do you have evidence our government will stop at covid vaccine number 4? They didn’t at 1. 2 or 3.

      How far should we go? I never tried to guilt you or shame you for others actions. I would shame you for thinking these people are beneath you because they don’t share your view.

      Everyone in reality is selfish. We are all looking out for number 1. Very few people can hold the true burden that is looking out for others. For the good of mankind. That kind of pressure takes true courage. I have only ever been privileged to witness it. Once.

      1. Hi Flynn,

        Your original point was that people might loose their benifits and their housing if they refuse to be vaccinated. There are so many things in our society that people have absolutly no control over that cause them the same sorts of loss, in my opinion we as a society should be concentrating on fixing these, and so I am not too concerned about those who suffer self inflicted consequences.

        “No atrocities have been committed because the ex pope probably touched children too”, ahhh, you should maybe look up the meaning of atrocity (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/atrocity), I would say the systematic, decades long abuse of children and it’s cover up fits fits the definition quite well.

        “Forced vaccination” I never mentioned forcing vaccinations on anyone (for the record I am against compulsory vaccinations). Life in any society has many conditions and a persons choices and actions (or non-actions) have consequences. I have had jobs where certian vaccinations and monthly blood tests were required, not complusory but if you want that job…., child vaccinations were not complusory but needed to get into kindy, etc. there is no cake and eating it too.

        “I never tried to guilt you or shame you for others actions” but you wrote “Anybody agreeing with this should genuinely hold their heads in shame”.

        “None of the covid vaccines stop you from passing it on. Or catching it. Or getting sick. Or dying” Not 100% truthful here, the vac won’t stop you from passing it on, or catching it, or getting sick, or dying that is true BUT it will greatly reduce the risk of all of them, and the more of the population that is vaccinated the greater the risk is reduced.

        “They have only ever claimed that it will reduce symptoms”, I think if you check a bit further you will find they claim reduced suseptability & transmission too (NHS, RKI, CDC). Plus reduced symptoms is a major gain, not just for the paient but for the entire health system.

        “I absolutely draw the line at forcing anything on anyone who doesn’t want it” On vaccniations I agree on the previso that, if this is their choice they live with the consenquencies. In general yours is a very broad statement that you might want to re-think (does society have the right to force convicted child molesters into prison if they’d rather stay in the seminary, for example?)

        “Do you have evidence our government will stop at covid vaccine number 4? They didn’t at 1. 2 or 3” I don’t quite see it in the same light as you here, the number of Corona vaccinations needed depends on the virus and sciences ability to respond to it, naturally a responsible administration will push for the latest/best vaccination, so as the virus mutates newer responces are required, it would be irresponsible of our government not to push for there up-take.

        “The great big elephant in the room no one really wants to talk about is where a persons right to self determination and the collective “greater good” merge” I wouldn’t say it’s “The great big elephant” it is preaty much the basic question at the center of society, it is argued and discussed over every day (maybe not specifficly with regards to vaccination), if forms the base of our laws, the constitution and the Grundgesetz here in Germany.

        “Your not the first to criticize my view” and vica-versa. There was nothing but a short opinion in your first post, that is what I responded to, you provided no facts for me to counter-fact. I just wanted you to know that not all of us feel too sorry for people who suffer self-inflicted consequencies. You are of course welcome to your own view, as am I.

  2. I wrote a huge reply took me about an hour. Then I got to this statement. I’ve decided to delete everything else, I was wasting words.

    I will try to clarify what I meant.
    My body. My choice.
    To use your example. The child has the right to not be molested. This should be unquestionable.
    The person doing the molestation does not have the right to do that to somebody.
    My question is at what point does the child loose the right to not be molested?

  3. My reply seems to have been lost. I wrote a huge reply but deleted almost all of it.

    To clarify what I meant.
    My body. My choice.
    To use your example. A child has the right not to be molested. This is unquestionable.
    Another person does not have the right to molest a child.
    My question is. At what point does the child loose the right not to be molested.

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WORKING IN GERMANY

‘Lack of diversity is a problem’: What it’s like to work at a Berlin tech startup

Many foreigners dream of finding a job in Germany's growing startup scene. But aside from promises of free pizza, what's the culture like, is the pay good - and do you need to speak German? We spoke to two foreigners working at tech startups in Berlin to find out.

'Lack of diversity is a problem': What it's like to work at a Berlin tech startup

With over €5.1 billion in venture capital fund investments raised last year, the startup industry in Germany’s capital is booming. Startups are the fastest-growing job sector in Berlin, and more than 78,000 people are now employed in the sector.

The sector attracts highly qualified, ambitious people from all over the globe. But what is it really like to work for a Berlin startup?

We spoke to two insiders to find out. Gabriela, 36, is originally from Poland and has been a Business-to-Business Manager in a tech startup in Berlin since October last year. Giuseppe, also 36, is originally from Italy and has been working as a Human Resources Manager in various tech startups for the last seven years. 

Most important question first – do you actually get free pizza and office table tennis?

Giuseppe: These kinds of benefits have become a bit of a cliche that doesn’t really reflect the reality anymore. Yoga, soft drinks, and fruit baskets are nothing special. The real benefits are now to do with remote working and flexible working schedules. 

Gabriela: We haven’t really had many of these kinds of ‘incentives’ because we’ve been mainly working from home since I started. Only in the last month or so we’ve been going to the office at least once a week, and we do get free pizza and drinks once a month when the CEO’s give us their monthly update on how the business is going.

READ ALSO: The German regions attracting startups

Would you say that your work environment is diverse?

Gabriela: My team is a complete mix of people from different European countries. But the number of BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) people on board is not very high and there is definitely a problem with the lack of female leadership, which the company is trying to address. The CEOs are all white Germans.

Giuseppe: (Lack of) diversity is still a big problem. Most of the CEOs and the highest earners are white – usually German – guys. Women and BAME people tend to occupy lower-paid jobs. It’s a systemic issue – and there is competition among a lot of startups that are trying to show who is more diverse. 

How much German is spoken in your company?

Gabriela: Hardly any. We speak all the time in English with each other and all of our meetings are in English.

Giuseppe: It’s the same with us. I’m hearing German less and less. 

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

Is there anything then that indicates that the company you’re working for is German?

Gabriela: I think the presence of a strong labour law reminds you that you’re in Germany. In our company, there’s an employees representation group and certain clear rules. You know that you won’t be suddenly dismissed once you’ve passed your probation time.

Giuseppe: Yes, the labour law is what I would point to. It’s not easy to get rid of employees in Germany – there is a more robust framework that affects the environment and culture. 

What is the salary like?

Gabriela: I think it’s competitive. My company does salary benchmarking every summer to see what the standard is across the industry and adjusts its pay accordingly.

Giuseppe: Salaries have gone up a lot in the last few years and you could even say they are booming now. A ‘normal’ engineer can expect to earn at least €85,000 per year, and if you are in a serious leadership position, you can expect to earn up to €180,000.

READ ALSO: Do internationals face discrimination in the workplace

A woman working from home throws money in the air. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

Would you say that it’s a high-pressure environment to work in?

Gabriela: For me, there isn’t the kind of pressure that if you don’t perform you won’t get the money you should be getting. Instead, my company is trying to get you to think that your own success is intertwined with the success of the company. There are good incentives to work hard and we have also a certain amount of shares in the company, so if it does well we benefit too.

Giuseppe: I personally feel pressure, but I love what I do, so for me it’s fine. But I have seen a lot of cases of people burning out – especially young people. I think because there are a lot of young managers, who get into leadership roles without having the tools or strength to resist the pressure.

How do you find the work-life balance? 

Giuseppe: I feel like I’m working all the time, but again, that’s because I love my job and I want to, it’s not necessarily the expectation, it’s not like in the US. In Berlin tech startups, there is a tendency to slow down around 6pm.

Gabriela: For me, the work-life balance compared to previous jobs is very good. Telecommuting is great, there are flexible starting times and last-minute holiday requests are usually approved. I think it’s very good for people with children and more complex schedules. 

How many days holiday do you get?

Gabriela: We get 28 days holiday per year.

Giuseppe: We get between 23 and 30 days holiday per year, depending on how long you’ve been working in the company.

What are the career progression opportunities like?

Gabriela: Very dynamic. For myself, I don’t see a clear career path at the moment, but I see a lot of movement happening and people moving to different roles. There is a feeling of being in a constant state of change. 

Giuseppe: If you join a startup at the right time, you can very easily become a manager very quickly.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to boost your career chances in Germany

What was different about working for a Berlin start-up than you expected?

Gabriela: I thought that working from home would be easier, because I hadn’t done that much before, but I find it much harder to be engaged than I expected. I think a lot of startups (in Berlin) are struggling now to find the right balance between the competing interests of their employees – some of whom want to be fully remote and others who want to come more regularly to the office.

Giuseppe: Before I started working for tech startups I had this romantic image that they were all led by geniuses with big ideas who started in their garages. But in reality, I’ve found this emotional, big-dreaming side to be lacking. There are a lot of people who work for startups who just see it like any other job.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard.

A work team exchanging ideas with notes on a whiteboard. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

What are the best things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Giuseppe: You can make an impact with what you do, to build a product and say it’s mine. There is also creativity and freshness in the team dynamics. I was deeply unhappy in the years I spent working for big corporations because I didn’t know what the goal was. In startups, the objectives are clear.

Gabriela: You can grow with the company, and there are a lot of positions opening all the time, and it’s very common for startups to promote internal talent.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The German regions attracting startups

What are the worst things about working for a Berlin tech start-up?

Gabriela: Sometimes it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change. It sometimes feels like we are constantly onboarding new people or people are changing roles and there is a slightly chaotic feel to things. The buzzword “agility” is used and abused, and sometimes means staff is expected to go along with anything and everything.

Giuseppe: In the tech start-up world here there seem to be a lot of people who get into the top jobs because they speak a lot, not necessarily because they are the most competent. There is a lot of networking and self-promotion required to push yourself forward. It’s also not a good environment for people who don’t like change, because things change a lot. 

Do you think Berlin is a good place for foreigners to work?

Gabriela: Yes, definitely. You have a lot of choice when it comes to places to work – so it’s unlikely you’ll have to stick at a job which
you don’t like. It’s also a big help for foreigners that most startups in Berlin don’t require German language skills.

Giuseppe: Definitely. For me, the mix of cultures and ideas in the workplace is really inspiring and motivating. And, of course, the city of Berlin itself is full of cultural events and has a great night life – so it’s a great place to live for when you want to detach from work too.

Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about joining a tech start-up in Berlin?

Giuseppe: Try to develop an entrepreneurial mindset instead of an employee mindset as soon as possible. Always look for opportunities, don’t take things personally, don’t think about what happened yesterday, and focus on the now. 

Gabriela: Be open-minded and be prepared for change. 

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