The study, which debunks the image of Germany as Europe’s last bastion of high wages, found that as many as 4.1 million Germans earned less than €7 an hour, 2.5 million less than €6. A further 1.4 million people’s hourly rate did not even clear €5 an hour.
Nearly 800,000 workers have to get by on less than €1,000 a month.
The new report, seen by the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, also found that low income workers earned an average of €6.68 an hour in former West Germany and €6.52 in former East Germany.
And there was a huge disparity between eastern and western Germany in the rate of increase in low wages. Between 1995 and 2010, there was a 68-percent increase in low income workers in the former West Germany, compared to only three percent in the former East.
People in €400 “mini-jobs,” which are supported by government benefits, are the most likely to earn less than €9.15 an hour.
“Other groups with a large proportion of low-income workers are under-25s, people with limited contracts, immigrants, and people without a job qualification,” the report said.
Despite this last category, the majority of the eight million people on low incomes have completed job training.
The study, which was based on data from 12,000 households, is likely to reignite the country’s ongoing debate on a single minimum wage. The researchers believe that one in five German workers would benefit from a minimum wage of €8.50 an hour.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party are in favour of a national minimum wage, while business associations say that it would destroy many jobs.
Germany has no unified minimum wage, but collective bargaining agreements between employers and trade unions mean that minimum wages have been agreed in certain sectors, though these are often confined to certain states.