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Flight chaos: How Germany wants to relax red tape to recruit foreign workers

Rachel Loxton
Rachel Loxton - [email protected]
Flight chaos: How Germany wants to relax red tape to recruit foreign workers
Berlin Airport will be the only airport in the country unaffected by Monday's planned "Mega Strike," with flights cancelled almost everywhere else. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christoph Soeder

The German government has announced more details on how it plans to help ease flight disruptions due to staff shortages in the aviation industry.

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What's happening?

In view of major staff shortages at airports, the German government wants to cut red tape to allow foreign employees to work in Germany.

Temporary workers from abroad should be able to fill in at airports at short notice in sectors such as baggage handling and security checks, said Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser at a joint press conference in Berlin on Wednesday. 

Faeser said the aim was for the government to issue permits quickly. This should enable skilled workers to be employed in Germany as soon as possible, particularly in ground service providers and private security firms.

"We are making it possible for companies to use support staff from abroad, especially from Turkey," said Faeser.

The minister reiterated that security remained a top priority for Germany and staff will have to pass background checks.

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Heil said that according to the air industry, several thousand workers who are currently not needed at airports in Turkey could plug the gaps in Germany.

He said the workers would be hired by the private companies directly. For their employment in Germany, the government plans to temporarily create the conditions in the form of  residence and work permits.

Heil added that the government would make sure that foreign workers are not exploited. Employees must be paid according to collective agreements and given decent housing, he pledged.

READ ALSO: Will Germany manage to tackle its airport chaos this summer?

Germany has come under fire in the past over the exploitation of foreign workers in the meat industry.

The government blamed the aviation industry for the staff shortages. "Ultimately, it is a private-sector problem that can only be solved by the companies," said FDP politician Wissing. The companies had cut many jobs during the pandemic, he said.

German government ministers Hubertus Heil, Volker Wissing and Nancy Faeser speak at a Berlin press conference on Wednesday.

German government ministers Hubertus Heil, Volker Wissing and Nancy Faeser speak at a Berlin press conference on Wednesday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

The SPD's Heil also took the companies to task.

"It is not a permanent solution," Heil said. "It is not acceptable for companies to create problems and dump that on the state's doorstep, so to speak." He added that the industry must solve its staffing problem itself in the medium term.

The companies have a duty - and a vested interest - to be attractive employers, said Heil, adding that it is their customers who are suffering from the current chaos.

Heil criticised the fact that many companies in the aviation industry had laid off staff in the pandemic - or didn't top up reduced hours pay despite government support. These decisions led to many employees quitting or looking for other, more attractive jobs, he said. 

Meanwhile, Government Commissioner for Tourism, Claudia Müller, accused firms of planning errors. It was "not difficult to foresee" that the time would come when "many people would finally want to get out and enjoy their holidays again", the Green politician told Bild newspaper.

Open up priority lanes

The SNP's Faeser urged the aviation industry to also take further measures to reduce the queues at check-in and security gates.

For example, fast or priority lanes could be opened for all travellers, she suggested. These are usually only open to business or first-class travellers.

However, concerns have been raised about how helpful extra workers from abroad will be for the current season. 

Many of the temp workers are likely to be deployed in August at the earliest - and that could be too late for the busiest season at many airports, said Thomas Richter, head of the employers' association of ground handling service providers in air transport (ABL).

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He added: "It doesn't solve the problem, but it certainly helps."

The shortage of staff at airlines and especially ground service providers is currently causing huge queues, delays and flight cancellations.

READ ALSO: ‘Arrive three hours early’: Your tips for flying in Germany this summer

Meanwhile, airlines across Europe are cancelling thousands of flights to relieve the overstretched system. Lufthansa alone is cancelling around 3,000 connections at its Frankfurt and Munich hubs over summer.

As The Local reported, Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr apologised for the disruption in an open letter to customers. 

According to a study by the Institute of the German Economy, there is currently a shortage of about 7,200 skilled workers at German airports.

The Federal Employers' Association of Personnel Service Providers (BAP) said the situation at German airports is a taste of what the country can expect due to worsening labour shortages.

"Labour migration is therefore urgently needed. And at this point Germany cannot do without the expertise of temporary employment agencies, some of which operate worldwide - which are also on the ground in countries with different demographic trends - and can recruit the urgently needed staff there for employment in Germany," BAP Managing Director Florian Swyter told Handelsblatt.

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