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WORKING IN GERMANY

What employees in Germany need to know about Weihnachtsgeld

When winter rolls around, many workers in Germany can look forward to a special Christmas bonus from their employer. But who's entitled to it - and how much should it be? Here's everything you need to know about 'Weihnachtsgeld'.

Christmas bonus payment
Small presents lie on top of a pile of euro notes. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Monika Skolimowska

OK, so what’s Weihnachtsgeld?

Weihnachtsgeld – or Christmas money – is an annual bonus that gets paid out to employees each winter. In Germany, it’s one of the most popular ways to reward and compensate employees, and around 55 percent of German workers receive it on top of their salary each year.

It was originally designed to help employees cover the additional costs of buying Christmas gifts, but these days bosses use it as a way to motivate employees throughout the year, or simply as an additional perk of the job. 

The likelihood of getting Weihnachtsgeld depends on the type of contract you’re on, the region you live in and even your gender. In western German states, around 59 percent of employees get a Christmas bonus, while just 39 percent of employees in former East German states are lucky enough to get a payout. Similarly, while 57 percent of men receive Weihnachtsgeld, just 51 percent of women do. 

People with long-term contracts are also more likely to be treated to some extra spending money at Christmas: 56 percent of permanent employees get Weihnachtsgeld in Germany, while just 45 of those on short-term contracts do. 

As an alternative to Weihnachtsgeld, employers may choose to pay what’s known as Urlaubsgeld – or holiday pay. This is sometimes paid out along with the salary when the employee takes annual leave, or at another set time of year. 

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

I didn’t get a bonus this year – am I entitled to one?

You may well be – but the legal situation is a little complicated. Essentially, German labour laws don’t mandate that employees have a right to receive Weihnachtsgeld, but in some cases you could still be entitled to it.

The most common ways that workers can claim a Christmas bonus are as follows:

  • Through a collective agreement negotiated by your trade union
  • Through a company agreement between the workers’ council and employer 
  • If entitlement to a bonus is written in your contract 
  • If your employer has repeatedly given Christmas bonuses in the past 

According to German law, when an employer pays Weihnachtsgeld for at least three years in a row, the entitlement to an annual bonus is considered an unwritten part of the contract. That means that if your boss usually pays out an annual bonus and suddenly decides not to, you may still have a claim to the additional cash. 

Another important thing to note is that employees should be treated equally when it comes to any Christmas bonus payouts. In other words, an employee can’t be excluded from recieving Weihnachtsgeld unless there is a legally valid reason for doing so. 

If your contract or a collective agreement entitles you to Weihnachtsgeld, it’s important to check the terms and conditions carefully. That’s because some companies may require you to continue working there for a set period of time after recieving your bonus – so leaving before a set date could cause you to lose your entitlement to the money. 

READ ALSO: Why German employers will soon have to record staff working hours

How much should Weihnachtsgeld be? 

The amount of Weihnachtsgeld employees can get isn’t defined by law, but it’s often calculated as a proportion of an employees’ salary and may also relate to the amount of time you’ve spent at the company.

According to Federal Office of Statistics, workers in Germany who have a collective agreement will receive €2,747 for their Christmas bonus this year on average – 2.6 percent higher than the average payout last year. 

Frankfurt Christmas shopping

A man carries a wrapped present through the centre of Frankfurt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Rumpenhorst

However, there are significant differences between different industry sectors. At a time when fossil fuel prices are soaring, workers in the crude oil and natural gas sector have enjoyed the highest bonuses of around €5,504 on average, followed those in the petroleum and coking sector who netted an average bonus of €5,450. On the other end of the scale, employees who work in recruitment got an average of just €327 on top of their usual salaries. 

Collective agreements negotiated by trade unions will often lay out what percentage of an employee’s salary should be paid as a bonus at different stages of their employment. In most cases, employees who’ve been at a company for six months will get 25 percent on top of their normal monthly salary, which is increased to 35 percent after a year, to 45 percent after two years and to 55 percent after three.

READ ALSO: Jobs in Germany: Should foreign workers join a union?

When can people expect their bonus?

Different companies may choose to do things in different ways, but traditionally Weihnachtsgeld is paid out at the end of November along with your salary.

This is to ensure that people can use the extra cash to start buying Christmas presents and enjoying the festive season in December. 

Is there anything else I should know?

It’s important to remember that Weihnachtsgeld counts as taxable income, so you should see all the usual reductions for income tax and social contributions on your payslip along with details of the bonus. 

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For members

IMMIGRATION

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

The German government has agreed on a set of reforms for the immigration of skilled workers, which was approved by the cabinet on Wednesday. Here's what they're planning.

EXPLAINED: How Germany plans to make immigration easier for skilled workers

What’s happening?

Germany is currently facing a dramatic skilled worker shortage, particularly in the health sector, IT, construction, architecture, engineering and building services. The German government currently expects that, by 2026, there will be 240,000 jobs for which there will be no qualified candidates.

In order to help plug the gap in the labour market, the coalition government has been proposing changes to immigration law for months.

In September, Labour Minister Hubertus Heil presented plans for a new points-based immigration system, that will enable non-EU workers to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer, as long as they fulfil certain criteria, under a so-called “Opportunity Card” (Chancenkarte) scheme.

READ ALSO: Explained: How to apply for Germany’s new ‘opportunity card’ and other visas for job seekers

Now, the coalition government has agreed on a wide-ranging set of initiatives to help remove hurdles for skilled workers coming to Germany. The points were approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, who should then come up with a draft law in the first quarter of 2023.

What’s in the plans?

The central aim of the government’s plans is to make it easier for people from outside the EU to find a job in Germany.

In the draft paper, ministers distinguish between three so-called pillars, the first of which concerns the requirements that foreign specialists must meet in order to be allowed to work in Germany.

Until now, they have had to have a recognized degree and an employment contract, but the government wants to lower this hurdle.

The draft states: “For specialists who are unable to present documents relating to their professional qualifications or can only do so in part, for reasons for which they themselves are not responsible, an entry and residence option should nevertheless be created.” The competencies could then be finally examined once they have arrived in Germany.

A trainee electrician practices in a training centre in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Oliver Berg

The second pillar involves skilled workers from abroad who do not yet have a degree but already have a lot of professional experience.

For employees in the information and communications technology sector, the requirement of having sufficient German language skills would be waived, and it would then be up to the managers of the company making the job offer to decide whether or not they want to employ the skilled worker despite a lack of German language skills. 

READ ALSO: ‘More jobs in English’: How Germany could attract international workers

The third pillar is about enabling third-country nationals with good potential to stay in Germany in order to find a job. The “Opportunity Card” falls under this pillar and will involve a new points-based system, which will allow non-EU nationals to come to Germany to look for work even without a job offer as long as they fulfil at least three of the criteria of having a degree or professional qualification, having experience of at least three years, having a language skill or previous residence in Germany and are under 35.

READ ALSO: How to apply for Germany’s new opportunity card and other visas for job seekers

What other initiatives do the plans include?

The traffic light coalition also wants to do more to promote Germany as an attractive, innovative and diverse country abroad.

One initiative is to publicise job vacancies internationally and connect qualified people abroad with employers and educational institutions in Germany. 

READ ALSO: Will immigration reform be enough to combat Germany’s worker shortage?

The “Make it in Germany” portal, which has its own job exchange, will be expanded and further developed.

The government also wants to promote the German language both abroad and at home for example, by expanding digital language courses and exams.

The government also wants to simplify and accelerate the recognition procedures for foreign vocational qualifications. One of the planned measures is that the required documents can also be accepted in English or in the original language.

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