Living and working in Germany

27 Aprile 2023

Data source: Eurostat

Eurofound provides research, data and analysis on a wide range of social and work-related topics. This information is largely comparative, but also offers country-specific information for each of the EU Member States, which included the UK prior to its withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020. Most information is available in English but some has been translated to facilitate access at national level.

Eurofound strives to strengthen the ongoing link between its own work and national policy debates and priorities related to quality of life and work. Increasingly important in this context are the EU’s policy priorities for a European Green Deal, a digital future, an economy that works for people, promoting and strengthening European democracy. To help repair the economic and social damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission, the European Parliament and EU leaders have also agreed on a recovery plan that will lead the way out of the crisis and lay the foundations for a modern and more sustainable Europe. The EU’s long-term budget, coupled with NextGenerationEU, the temporary instrument designed to boost the recovery, will be the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget to help rebuild a post-COVID-19 Europe. 

The European Semester provides a framework for the coordination of economic policies across the EU. It allows Member States to discuss their economic and budget plans and monitor progress at specific times throughout the year. For 2022, the European Semester resumes it broad economic and employment policy coordination, while further adapting in line with the implementation requirements of  the Recovery and Resilience Facility. As part of this, Member States are encouraged to submit national reform programmes and stability/convergence programmes that will set out their economic and fiscal policy plans, as in previous Semester cycles. The main change in the 2022 cycle will be that the national reform programme will play a dual role. Besides its role for the European Semester, it will also fulfil one of the two bi-annual reporting requirements of Member States under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.

2015 Eurofound EWCS survey results in Germany: 95% of people consider themselves good at their work

Living and working in Germany and COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to have a profound impact on people’s lives across the globe, with major implications for quality of life and work. Eurofound has taken a multipronged response to the pandemic, adapting its research focus in a variety of ways. A new database of national-level policy responses, EU PolicyWatch, collates information on measures taken by government and social partners, as well as company practices, aiming to cushion the effects of the crisis. Eurofound's unique e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19, provides an insight into the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives across the EU, with the aim of helping policymakers to bring about an equal recovery from the crisis. Five rounds of the survey have been carried out to date: in April 2020 when most Member States were in lockdown, in July 2020 when society and economies were slowly reopening, in March 2021 as countries dealt again with various levels of lockdown and vaccine rollout, a panel survey in October/November 2021 to track developments since the start of the pandemic, and in March–May 2022, charting the latest developments and looking at how life has changed over the past two years. The survey investigates the impact on quality of life and society, democracy and trust, working and teleworking, the financial situation and security of people, the quality of public services, support measures and vaccinations during COVID-19. Findings for each country and a range of data pages are available.

Explore our data pages by country to find out more on the situation in Germany.


The country page gives access to Eurofound's most recent survey data and news, directly related to Germany:

Research carried out prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on 31 January 2020, and published subsequently, may include data relating to the 28 EU Member States. Following this date, research only takes into account the 27 EU Member States (EU28 minus the UK), unless specified otherwise.

Survey results

Ability to choose or change
methods of work

Data source: 2015 EWCS survey

Possibility to accumulate overtime
for days off

Data source: 2013 ECS survey

Recent developments

Eurofound contacts in Germany

Correspondents in Germany

Correspondents report on topics related to developments in the country's working life and inform Eurofound’s pan-European comparative analysis. Read more

Consortium Hans-Böckler-Stiftung (HBS) & Institut der Deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (IW)

Eurofound Management Board members from Germany

Eurofound's Management Board is made up of representatives of the social partners and national governments of all Member States, European Commission representatives and an independent expert appointed by the European Parliament. Read more

Thomas Voigtländer​ Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS)

Matthias Rohrmann Employers' and Business' Association of Mobility and Transport Service Providers (AGV-MOVE)

Tanja Bergrath Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB)

Related content

Other country-specific information may be available in certain areas on demand. Please feel free to contact your country contact at Eurofound for this or any other information at

Living in Germany

Quality of life

Quality of life

Many of the indicators about quality of life in Germany are similar to or better than the respective EU28 averages, according to EQLS findings. However, in 2016, 19% of respondents in Germany reported their health to be very good, which was lower than the EU average of 24%.

The share of people reporting difficulties in making ends meet has decreased by almost 10 percentage points in Germany since 2011, down from 30% in 2011 to 21% in 2016, versus an EU average of 39% in 2016.

Respondents in Germany were on average less optimistic about their children’s or grandchildren’s future (58% agree or strongly agree) than about their own future (68%) in 2016. This observation is similar to that in many other western EU Member States. However, the opposite trend can be seen in many of the eastern Member States where people tend to be more optimistic about their children’s future than about their own.

Life satisfactionMean (1-10)
Taking all things together on a scale of 1 to 10, how happy would you say you are?Mean (1-10)
Optimism about own futureAgree & strongly agree---68%
Optimism about children’s or grandchildren’s futureAgree & strongly agree---58%
Take part in sports or physical exerciseAt least once a week--48%56%
In general, how is your health?Very good-20%19%19%
WHO-5 mental wellbeing indexMean (1-100)-676665
Making ends meetWith some difficulty, difficulty, and great difficulty24%26%30%21%
I feel I am free to decide how to live my lifeStrongly agree--35%27%
I find it difficult to deal with important problems that come up in my lifeAgree & strongly agree---21%
When things go wrong in my life, it generally takes me a long time to get back to normalAgree & strongly agree---20%

Work-life balance

Work-life balance

Compared to the EU28 averages, work–life balance related problems are less common in Germany. Furthermore, it appears there are no large gender differences in the frequencies of reported work–life balance problems. Work–life balance in Germany has deteriorated since 2011, following a trend also observed in many other EU28 countries.

(At least several times a month)   
I have come home from work too tired to do some of the household jobs which need to be doneTotal49%39%47%48%
It has been difficult for me to fulfil my family responsibilities because of the amount of time I spend on the jobTotal24%24%24%31%
I have found it difficult to concentrate at work because of my family responsibilitiesTotal6%9%9%12%

Quality of society

Quality of society

The Social Exclusion Index has remained stable in recent years, at 1.8 in 2016, and is below the EU28 average of 2.1 (on a scale of 1–5, where a lower value is better). Perceived tensions between poor and rich people have decreased. In 2003, 35% of respondents in Germany reported a lot of tension, and in 2016 this share was 29% (EU28 average also at 29%). However, perceived tensions between different racial and ethnic groups have increased substantially, especially since 2011. In 2011, 29% of respondents in Germany reported a lot of this kind of tension, but in 2016 the share had increased to 42% (similar to the EU28 average of 41%). This increase in perceived tensions between different racial and ethnic groups follows a trend observed in many other European countries since 2011. Furthermore, perceived tensions between different religious groups have increased. In 2011, 28% of respondents in Germany reported a lot of tension, and in 2016 the respective share was 45% (higher than the EU average of 38%).

In 2016, 22% of respondents in Germany reported feeling safe when walking alone after dark, which is lower than the EU28 average of 35%. Additionally, trust in people has fluctuated in recent years and was lower in 2016 than in 2003 (5.6 in 2003 and 5.1 in 2016, on a scale of 1–10). This is also slightly lower than the respective EU28 average of 5.2 in 2016.

Social exclusion indexMean (1-5)-
Trust in peopleMean (1-10)
Involvement in unpaid voluntary work% "at least once a month"--12%12%
Tension between poor and rich people% reporting 'a lot of tension'35%36%32%29%
Tension between different racial and ethnic groups% reporting 'a lot of tension'39%33%29%42%
I feel safe when I walk alone after darkStrongly agree---22%

Quality of public services

Quality of public services

Quality ratings for seven public services

Note: scale of 1-10, Source: EQLS 2016.

Germany gets high ratings for the quality of its public services. The ratings for all the measured services are above the respective EU28 averages. Furthermore, many of the services have improved in recent years. For instance, the perceived quality of health services has increased from 6.5 in 2003 to 7.3 in 2016 (on a scale of 1–10), compared with the respective EU28 average of 6.7. The perceived quality of the education system has also increased from 6.5 in 2003 to 7.0 in 2016, while the EU28 average was 6.7 in 2016. The state pension system gets the lowest rating among the seven public services shown in the table below, at 5.3 in 2016. However, the level is still slightly above the EU average of 5.0 in 2016. The perceived quality of social housing has remained stable since 2011 (the change from 6.2 in 2011 to 6.0 in 2016 is not statistically significant), being above the EU28 average of 5.6 in 2016.

Health servicesMean (1-10)
Education systemMean (1-10)
Public transportMean (1-10)
Childcare servicesMean (1-10)-
Long-term care servicesMean (1-10)--6.46.9
Social housingMean (1-10)--6.26.0
State pension systemMean (1-10)

Working life in Germany


  • Autore: Mona Aranea, Birgit Kraemer
  • Institution: WSI
  • Published on: Venerdì, Agosto 6, 2021

This profile describes the key characteristics of working life in Germany. It aims to complement other EurWORK research by providing the relevant background information on the structures, institutions and relevant regulations regarding working life. This includes indicators, data and regulatory systems on the following aspects: actors and institutions, collective and individual employment relations, health and well-being, pay, working time, skills and training, and equality and non-discrimination at work. The profiles are updated annually.


Highlights – Working life in 2022

Highlights – Working life in 2022

Author: Sandra Vogel
Institution: German Economic Institute (IW)
Highlights updated on: 27 April 2023
Working paper: Germany: Developments in working life in 2022

The outbreak of the war in Ukraine and sanctions against Russia slowed the economic recovery that had begun in 2021. German gross domestic product increased by only 1.9% in 2022 compared with 2.6% in 2021. War-induced inflation affected consumers and businesses alike, with prices increasing steeply for energy and fuel but also for certain food products. Naturally, social and political developments in Germany in 2022 were largely overshadowed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resulting war. Immediately after the start of the war, many demonstrations and protests were held in Germany calling on Russia to end the war.

Throughout the year, around one million Ukrainian refugees flew to Germany. Many of them were women (with children). Federal states and municipalities set up welcome centres as a first point of contact for refugees, and provided them with housing and other supports. Initial survey results show that many of the Ukrainian refugees had completed tertiary education, but only a minority spoke German proficiently. While around 60% of them benefited from welfare payments, 17% began a job in 2022. In addition, around half of the Ukrainian refugees indicated that they were enrolled in or had even completed German classes. Improved German language skills could also help with their integration into the workforce.

Solidarity among the German population right after the outbreak of the war was high. Many citizens donated money, clothes or food, or offered housing. However, as the war continued and living costs in Germany kept rising, calls for more extensive state support grew louder. Moreover, the federal government was also criticised for not targeting help to those most in need. Indeed, the current federal government – made up of an alliance of the Social Democrats (Social Democratic Party of Germany), the Greens (Die Grünen) and the Liberals (Free Democratic Party) – issued three relief packages in 2022. In total, these relief packages are worth €95 billion, with the third package, from September 2022, being the largest one. The relief packages include a variety of measures to cushion the negative effects of the war (e.g. financial support for citizens and companies to help with energy bills, higher welfare and child allowances to help families and low-income households, or certain tax reductions). Besides issuing relief packages, the federal government had to find tough compromises, given the different membership bases and political beliefs of the three ruling parties. Intense discussions on Germany’s involvement in delivering heavy war machinery and on gaining independence from Russian oil and gas in a fast and climate-friendly manner characterised the political debate in 2022.

While the federal government is still intact, the German labour market has been comparatively less resilient to the economic uncertainties of the times, with rising inflation, disrupted supply chains and the influx of refugees. The average unemployment rate stood at 5.3% in 2022, slightly lower than the previous year. However, the effects of the war were felt on wage developments, with wages lagging behind inflation in 2022. As many wage agreements from 2021 were still operational in 2022, employees received collectively agreed wage rises or one-off payments negotiated at a time when inflation was expected to be low. In sectors where social partners negotiated new wage agreements (such as the metal, chemicals and insurance industries), trade unions and employer organisations often agreed on percentage increases in basic remuneration plus one-off payments to help employees cover their bills. This trend is likely to continue throughout 2023, given that business expectations remain uncertain and the war rages on.

Key figures

Key figures

Comparative figures on working life in Germany




% (point) change 2012 –2019

% (point) change 2019-2020










GDP per capita









Unemployment rate – total









Unemployment rate – women









Unemployment rate – men









Unemployment rate – youth









Employment rate – total









Employment rate – women









Employment rate – men









Employment rate – youth









Source: Eurostat – Real GDP per capita (chain linked volumes [2010], in EUR) and percentage change 2012–2020 (both based on sdg_08_10). Unemployment rate by sex and age – annual average (15–74 years, % active population) and youth (15–24 years) % [une_rt_a]; Employment rate by sex and age – annual average (15–64 years, unit % total population, employment indicator active population) % [lfsi_emp_a].



Economic and labour market context

Between 2012 and 2019, GDP growth in Germany was 7.7%, below the EU average for the same period (11.5%). In 2020, real GDP has decreased by 5% compared to the previous year. Unemployment rates for all categories continued to decrease and were below the EU average figures, in particular youth unemployment, which stood at 5.8% in 2019, well below the EU average for that year (15%). In 2020, youth unemployment increased by 1.8 pp. compared to 2019.

More information on:

Legal context

The basic structures of the German industrial relations system have not changed since its inception after the Second World War. The Constitution (Grundgesetz, GG) and the Collective Agreements Act of 1949 ( Tarifvertragsgesetz, TVG) guarantee the freedom of coalition and the autonomy of trade unions and employer organisations/ single employers in concluding binding collective agreements. Worker interest representation is regulated under the 1952 Works Constitution Act (amended 1972, Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG) and The 1955 Staff Representation Act (Personalvertretungsgesetz), which grant employees the right to elect a worker representation body in establishments and public administrative units with at least five employees. These legal Acts define consultation and codetermination rights in Germany.

The Co-determination Acts of 1951 and 1976 introduced worker representation forsupervisory boards of companies with at least 2,000 employees.

The Catholic and Protestant church and their institutions, including social welfare organisations and private establishments, are not covered by German labour law but by church law. Workers may individually decide to become trade union members but do not have the right to strike. Wages are set unilaterally in agreement with employee representatives. Employee representation is regulated under the employee representation Acts of the German Protestant Church (Mitarbeitervertretungsgesetz, MVG) and of the Catholic Church (Mitarbeitervertretungsordnungen, MAV).

Industrial relations context

The German industrial relations system was shaped in the post-war period in West Germany. Transferring the West German industrial relations system to the Eastern part of the country after reunification has remained a challenge, as the East is characterised by a lack of large manufacturing companies and a dominance of small and medium-sized establishments (SME). Collective bargaining coverage, as well as works council coverage, has remained significantly lower in the Eastern part of the country, compared to West Germany. In 2017, 57% of West German workers were covered by a collective agreement compared to 44% of East German workers; the share of workers in establishments with a works council stood at 40% in West Germany, compared to 33% in East Germany.

One overall challenge has been the decline in membership of employer organisations, due to difficulties in organising new establishments, small and medium-sized enterprises and enterprises in newly emerging economic sectors. As a result, most sectoral employer organisations have decided to offer membership without a binding obligation to apply sectoral collective agreements (the so-called Mitgliedschaft ohne Tarifbindung, OT). Employer organisations typically do not publish a breakdown of different types of members. An exception is the employer organisation of the metal sector, Gesamtmetall, which reported that in 2016 the member companies with OT membership slightly outnumbered other types of members.

Recent trade union membership figures show diverging trends: clear signs of recovery (in occupational and sectoral trade unions in privatised companies and in the public-sector); stability because of strong organising activities (in metal and machinery); and ongoing decline because of restructuring (in construction, chemicals and mining). In additions, a number of small occupational trade unions stand in competition to established unions.

As of 2019, trade union density in Germany lay at 16.5% (data from OECD). Collective bargaining and works council coverage are still strong in the core zone of the industrial relations system – large manufacturing companies – and considerably weaker in private service sectors. In West Germany, some 41% of all manufacturing workers are covered by a collective agreement and are also represented by a works council – compared to only 19% of all West German service workers and to only 11% of all construction workers (data from 2016 – Kohaut/Ellguth 2017).

Actors and institutions

Actors and institutions

Trade unions, employer organisations and public institutions play a key role in the governance of the employment relation, in regulation of working conditions and in the design of industrial relations structures. They are interlocking parts in a multi-level system of governance that includes the European, national, sectoral, regional (provincial or local) and company levels. This section presents the main actors and institutions in Germany and their role in industrial relations.

Public authorities involved in regulating working life

In the post-war years, in reaction to the Nazi past, the legislator gave the public authorities a rather limited role in industrial relations. The 1949 Collective Agreements Act (Tarifvertragsgesetz, TVG) from guarantees trade unions, employer organisations and single employers’ autonomy in collective bargaining. In the case of juridical dispute, the labour courts decide on the right of an organisation to conclude a collective agreement and on the validity of a collective agreement. The social partners may ask the labour minister to extend an agreement.

According to the 2014 Minimum Wage Act (Mindestlohngesetz, MiloG) , the labour minister appoints the chair of the Minimum Wage Commission from among peak-level social partner organisations. The Minimum Wage commission recommends the level of the statutory minimum wage to the Labour Minister and the Federal Government takes the final decision on minimum wage adjustments.

The labour inspectorates in the 16 federal states (Länder) monitor occupational safety and health and the Customs Service, a unit of the Federal Ministry of Finance, controls compliance with the statutory minimum wage (Minimum Wage Act, MiloG), the Posted Workers Directive ( Arbeitnehmerentsendegesetz, ArbEntG), the Temporary Agency Work Act (Arbeitnehmerüberlassungsgesetz, AÜG) and theAct Against Undeclared Work Schwarzarbeitsbekämpfungsgesetz).


The concept of ‘organisational representativeness’ is unknown in the German system. The alternative concept is ‘collective bargaining capacity’ ( Tariffähigkeit). This concept has its basis in the Basic Law (freedom of coalition), the Collective Bargaining Act and is governed by the rulings of the Federal Labour Court. Trade unions and employer organisations have the right to engage in collective bargaining if collective bargaining is designated a statutory task (Article 2 of the Collective Bargaining Act). Based on ruling by the Federal Labour Court, the main indicators of ‘collective bargaining capacity’ are organisational independence (of the opposite party and third parties), internal democracy and organisational capacity (soziale Mächtigkeit) to push the opposite party to the bargaining table, for example through strikes, and to enforce the implementation of collective bargaining outcomes.

More information on representativeness of the main social partner organisations can be found in Eurofound’s representativeness study of the cross-industry social partners or in Eurofound’s sectoral representativeness studies.

Trade unions

About trade union representation

All employees in Germany have the right to join a trade union. Some groups of employees remain excluded from trade union representation, for the following reasons:

  • The collective bargaining partners determine the highest wage level they want to cover in collective bargaining. Employees earning more than the threshold of the agreed wage scale (außertariflicher Angestellte) are not covered by the collective agreements.
  • Self-employed workers are not covered by labour law, and trade unions do not represent them in collective bargaining. Self-employed workers can still be trade union members. The United Services Trade Union (ver.di) organises and consults self-employed workers, particularly those working in the media and in the transport sector. The metalworkers’ union IG Metall has started organising digital platform workers.
  • Trade unions may represent the interests of civil servants and judges before public authorities, but they cannot engage in collective bargaining on their behalf.
  • Trade unions may not represent the interests of workers covered by Catholic Church law. This also holds for workers under Protestant Church law, though some church worker organisations have opted to be represented by ver.di in collective bargaining.

OECD figures indicate a slow decrease in union density and a tendency towards organisational fragmentation. Membership with the three trade union peak level organisations is declining, though at slower rates. Public service worker unions and occupational unions organised around sectoral professions have slightly increased their membership in recent years.

Trade union membership and trade union density







Trade union density as percentage of active employees

no data



(WSI estimate)


(WSI estimate)


Trade union density as percentage of active employees





OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021

Trade union membership in 1000s




(Dribbusch 2018)


(WSI estimate)

2010-2013 figures according to OECD/Visser; 2014 and 2015 figures: own calculations based on TU membership figures (including DGB, dbb, CGB, Marburger Bund, Cockpit, UFO)

Trade union membership in 1000s





OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021

Main trade union confederations and federations, 2018/19

Long name



(as of 2019, unless otherwise indicated)

Involved in collective bargaining

Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund

(German Trade Union Confederation)



Yes (temporary agency work)

Industriegewerkschaft Metall

(German Metalworkers Union)

IG Metall



Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft

(United Services Union)


1,969,000 (2018)


Deutscher Beamtenbund und Tarifunion

(German Civil Servants Union and Wage Union)


1,318,000 (2018)


Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau Chemie Energie

(Industrial Union Mining, Chemistry and Energy)




Industriegewerkschaft Bauen Agrar Umwelt

(Industrial Union Construction Agriculture and the Environment)




Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft

(Trade Union Education and Academia)




Christlicher Gewerkschaftsbund (Christian Trade Union Federation)


271,000 (2018)


Sources: Dribbusch (2019a); Müller and Schulten (2020).

Employer organisations

About employer-interest representation

Section 9 of the German Constitution (guaranteeing freedom of association) also applies to employer organisations. Like trade unions, employer organisations have the right to engage in collective bargaining if assigned representative functions by their members and if tasked with collective bargaining according to their statutes (Section 2 of the Collective Bargaining Act). There are no further statutory regulations defining criteria for representativeness or any statutory requirement for an association.

Employer organisations have been affected by a decline in membership. Density figures cannot be provided because the employer organisations release figures for the number of organisational members, but not for numbers of establishments or employees covered.

In response to a challenging decline in membership, the vast majority of employer organisations offer membership without the binding obligation to apply collective agreements. The Federal Labour Court decided that they are allowed to do so given that members not applying collective agreements do not influence the organisation on issues regulated by collective bargaining. Craft guilds engaged in collective bargaining are prohibited to provide non-binding memberships.

Employer organisations – membership and density








Employer organisation density in terms of active employees






OECD/AIAS ICTWSS Database 2021

Employer organisation density in private sector establishments






European Company Survey (ECS) 2019

Main employer organisations

Main employer organisations and confederations, 2019

Long name




Involved in collective bargaining

Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände

(Confederation of German Employer organisations )


48 sectoral employer organisations,

14 regional employer organisations



Zentralverband des Deutschen Handwerks

(German Confederation of Skilled Crafts)


53 Craft Chambers; 36 professional organisations



Vereinigung der kommunalen Arbeitgeberverbände


16 regional organisations



Tarifgemeinschaft deutscher Länder


15 of 16 states



Gesamtverband der Arbeitgeberverbände der Metall- und Elektroindustriel


22 employer organisations



Bundesarbeitgeberverband Chemie


10 member organisations



Bundesverband Großhandel Außenhandel Dienstleistungen


42 regional organisations, 27 sectoral/professional organisations



Tripartite and bipartite bodies and concertation

Statutory tripartite bodies are rare in the German system. In case of the extension of a sectoral collective agreement, labour ministers cooperate with a sectoral bipartite wage committee. Article 5 of the Collective Bargaining Act stipulates that the Federal Labour Ministry - in cooperation with a wage committee set up by three representatives of the trade union and three representatives of the employer side - may declare a sectoral agreement generally binding. Since 2009, the Posted Workers Act contains a similar regulation with regards to extension mechanisms.

In 2014, the Minimum Wage Act put in place a permanent Statutory Minimum Wage Commission which decides on future minimum wage increases every two years. The commission is composed of three trade unions, three employer representatives and two academic experts. A chairperson is appointed by the social partners but needs approval by the Federal Labour Minister. Individual members are appointed every five years.

Main tripartite and bipartite bodies




Issues covered


Minimum Wage Commission



Statutory minimum wage

Not clearly defined Tarifausschuss, Tarifkommission,

Bipartite, not permanent



Workplace-level employee representation

Under the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz, BetrVG), in establishments with five workers or more, all workers (except for the executive staff) are entitled to take part in elections for works councils or to become members of the works council. They do not have to be a trade union member to do so. Whilst the works council enjoys co-determination rights as well as consultation and information rights with regards to social and health and safety issues, these rights do not extend to issues which are part of collective agreements (unless the agreement specifically allows the works council to deal with such topics).

Works councils are the main form of employee representation at the establishment level. As the latest data from the IAB establishment panel show, 41% of employees in the West German private sector had a works council in 2019(compared to 42% in 2018 and 40% in 2017). In East Germany 36% of employees of all employees were represented through a works council in 2019 (compared to 35% in 2018 and 33% in 2017). Coverage varies strongly by establishment size. Only 9% of establishments with up to 50 workers have worker representation (10% in East Germany), compared to 90% of establishments with more than 500 workers. The situation has stayed stable at both ends of the scale, and the situation in small establishments has not improved, even though a reform of the Works Constitution Act in 2003 aimed at enabling worker representation to be put in place. Over the past decade, works council coverage has decreased for medium-sized establishments with between 51 and 500 employees: only 52% of medium-sized companies had a works council installed in 2019, compared to over 60% in the early 2000s (the percentages do not vary between East and West)

Regulation, composition and competences of the bodies




Competences of the body

Involved in company level collective bargaining?

Thresholds/rules when they need to be/can be set up

(e.g. Works council)


By law

Workers including workers on fixed-term and marginal contracts. Executive and managerial staff is excluded

Competence to negotiate and conclude works agreements with single employer

Rules set by Works Constitution Act

Collective bargaining

Collective bargaining

The central concern of employment relations is the collective governance of work and employment. According to Germany’s Federal Office for Statistics, around 44% of employees in Germany were covered by a collective bargaining agreement in 2019.

Bargaining system

The autonomy of the collective bargaining partners is guaranteed by law as long as the outcome serves the good of the economy and of the workers. The concluded agreements are binding and are to be applied by all members of the employer organisation (unless the organisation offers membership without binding obligation to apply collective agreements). Collective agreements cover all trade union members in a company; in practice, they are generally applied to all workers of a company.

The dominant feature of collective bargaining in Germany is sectoral collective bargaining and agreements are typically concluded at regional level. Single-employer agreements are of minor importance and their share has only slightly increased in recent years, according to survey data from the Institute for Employment Research (IAB).

Collective agreements reached in the metal and electrical sector serve as guiding examples for many other sectors but pattern bargaining has been affected by a growing gap between the more stable industrial relations in the export-oriented manufacturing sector and the more difficult and conflicting private service sectors which depend on private demand.

Wage bargaining coverage

Collective wage bargaining coverage of employees from different sources




All levels

52 (2019)

44% industry level, 8% company level

Schulten (2021)

All levels

70% (2013)

2013 – ECS

All levels

36% (2019)

2019 – ECS

All levels

54% (2010)

2010 – SES

All levels

51% (2014)

2014 – SES

All levels

48% (2018)

2018 – SES

All sectors

49% (West)

35% (East)

2018 IAB

Private industry

44% (West)

28% (East)

2018 IAB

Sector level


2018 IAB

Company level

8% (of all private sector employees)

2018 IAB

No collective bargaining coverage


2018 IAB

Sources: European Company Survey (ECS) 2019, private sector companies with establishments >10 employees (NACE B-S) – multiple answers possible; Eurostat, Structure of Earnings Survey (SES), companies >10 employees (NACE B-SxO), single answer for each local unit: more than 50% of employees covered by such an agreement – online dataset codes: [EARN_SES10_01], [EARN_SES14_01], [EARN_SES18_01] (Percentage of employees working in local units where more than 50% of the employees are covered under a collective pay agreement against the total number of employees in the scope of the survey); IAB Establishment Panel: representative survey of the Federal Institute for Employment Research (IAB 2019), which covers private sector companies with establishments with more than one worker. See also German Federal Office for Statistics (2019).

Data by the European Company Survey and national sources are not easily comparable as the ECS provides data on the occupational level and the national cross-sectoral level which are unknown categories to German statistics. National data may be more reliable than the ECS as the IAB source is a representative panel surveying 16,000 establishments. According to the national source, there has been an ongoing decline in both collective bargaining coverage and in works council coverage, although less pronounced in recent years.

Bargaining levels

Levels of collective bargaining, 2019


National level (Intersectoral)

Sectoral level

Company level



Working time


Working time


Working time

Principal or dominant level





Important but not dominant level




Existing level





All three levels of vertical articulation exist; the main level is the sectoral one and Germany is a paradigm case for sectoral level collective bargaining/. Due to increased decentralisation, such as the increasing use of opening-clauses, the company level is gaining in importance and must be qualified as an important level of collective bargaining at present. National-level collective bargaining is comparably rare.

Timing of the bargaining rounds

New bargaining rounds can start once a collective agreement has expired. As of 2018, collective agreements remained in place for 26.5 months on average – the shortest duration was in the chemical and energy sector (15 months), the longest in the public sector (30 months).


Due to Germany’s federal structure and the regionalised structure of trade unions and employer organisations, the main pattern is horizontal coordination within a sector across different regions. Federal states (Länder) vary significantly in their collective bargaining coverage – between 60% in North Rhine-Westphalia and 40% in Saxony (Lübker and Schulten 2020). Vertical coordination is rare, carried out mainly through the German Civil Servants Union (Deutscher Beamtenbund, dbb), which in some sectors bargains on behalf of small trade union affiliates.

Pattern bargaining under the leadership of the metal and machinery sector remains a dominant form of coordination in Germany. In the service sectors, public sector bargaining plays an important role, even with regards to wage setting under church law. In recent years, pattern bargaining is losing importance due to a growing divergence in the quality of industrial relations.

Extension mechanisms

Collective agreements can be extended either under the Collective Agreements Act or under the Posted Workers Act. Under the former, the federal as well as the regional labour ministers may extend an agreement if the extension is approved by a bipartite wage committee. Under the Posted Workers Act, the Federal Labour Minister may react to a plea by the collective bargaining partners and extend a sectoral agreement to the national level.

From 2000 to 2016, the number of extended agreements decreased from 551 to 444. Excluding agreements that amend existing agreements, the total number of extended agreements is even lower, at 230 in the year 2016 (Schulten 2018). To counteract the trend, the previous government amended both Acts to simplify the extension mechanism (Act on the Promotion of Collective Bargaining Autonomy, see above).Sectoral agreements can now be extended if the extension is ‘in the public interest’; previously, they had to cover at least 50% of the sectoral employees to be eligible for extension. Despite these legislative efforts, the number of new extensions remains both generally low and limited to few sectors. In July 2017, nearly three quarters (73%) of all extended collective agreements in force had been reached in one of the following five sectors: textile and clothing, construction and construction-related trades, hairdressing, security services, and the stone industry and related trades (Schulten 2018: 76) There are no other voluntary mechanisms of extension/application of the terms of collective agreements.

Derogation mechanisms

Many collective agreements contain so-called opening clauses that allow derogation from collective agreements under various circumstances. The exact proportion of these clauses is unknown. There is no year in which no such clauses existed.

Expiry of collective agreements

Under Article 4 of the Collective Agreement Act, collective agreements stay valid until a new collective agreement is concluded (Nachwirkungsfrist). Workers hired after the termination of the collective agreement and before the settling of a new agreement are not covered by the expired agreement.

Peace clauses

Collective agreements are by nature meant to ensure industrial peace and contain an obligation to hold the peace during the validity of the agreement. Collective bargaining partners typically conclude a relative obligation, meaning that industrial action can be taken to reach a new agreement. The Works Constitution Act contains an absolute peace obligation, meaning that works councils are not allowed to call a strike by themselves and outside of collective bargaining.

Other aspects of working life addressed in collective agreements

In recent years, collective agreements have gained importance in settling new working time arrangements or in providing options to do so at establishment level. This trend is due to employers’ call for more flexibility in working time and to trade union demands for more autonomy. Under a collective agreement settled in 2016, workers employed with the companies of Deutsche Bahn can choose between a wage increase, a reduction of weekly working hours or an additional six days off. In the chemical and mining sector, the collective agreement of 2017 offers an opening clause to deviate from sectoral weekly working hours at establishment level by providing a choice between 35 and 40 hours to particular units or groups of workers. Very long working hours of up to 12 hours are also allowed. Adjustment time is extended to 36 months (the EU Working Time Directive stipulates four months). The collective agreement settled in the metal and machinery sector in 2018 contained an opening clause giving all workers the choice to reduce their working time to a minimum of 28 hours for a fixed time period and to return to full-time hours afterwards and to, on the other hand, raise the share of workers working overtime.

Industrial action and disputes

Industrial action and disputes

Legal aspects

There are two main types of industrial action in Germany: the strike and the lock-out.

There is no law governing the regulation of strikes or lockouts. The Constitution – apart from its general guarantee of the freedom of association – mentions neither. The regulation of industrial conflict remained subject to separate legislation and, since the legislator has remained inactive, has effectively been left to the courts. Case law has been developed by the Federal Labour Court in subsequent rulings.

A fundamental legal principle governing disputes is that industrial action must pursue an aim that can be regulated by collective agreement. Therefore, strikes and lockouts are only lawful in the context of collective bargaining and political or general strikes are considered unlawful. Only unions have the right to call a strike. Secondary action may be legal under certain circumstances. There is no individual right of workers to go on strike. Strikes that are not officially recognised by a union are unlawful. A ballot is not required unless specific union rules require such a ballot. Career civil servants (Beamte) are banned from the right to strike. An unlawful strike gives rise to entitlements to damages and, in particular mutual entitlements, to a restraining injunction between those involved. Whether or not a strike is unlawful is to be decided by the labour courts concerned in each case.

Industrial action developments 2015–2019








Working days lost per 1000 employees






Federal Employment Agency, annual data on industrial action (Streikstatistik)

Working days lost






WSI annual estimate on industrial action (Dribbusch 2019b)

Note: In 2015 the number of days lost was exceptionally high due to several long lasting strong industrial conflicts in the public sector (Social and childcare workers in municipalities) and in privatised companies (Deutsche Bahn, Lufthansa). In 2018, many industrial disputes took place in the metal industry and in the food and drink sector. WSI estimates are not available yet for 2019. The German Federal Office of Statistics registered a clear decrease in strike days lost per thousand employees for 2019.

Dispute resolution mechanisms

Collective dispute resolution mechanisms

In many sectors, trade unions and employer organisations have concluded a joint dispute resolution agreement (Schlichtungsvereinbarung). Such resolution agreements usually define after what time peace obligation expire and therefore when a trade union can call an official strike. If negotiations for a new collective agreement, the bargaining parties can activate the agreed joint dispute resolution procedure ( Schlichtung) to prevent the outbreak of industrial action. The procedure does not have to lead to a compromise but may merely include mediation. There is no statutory mediation or arbitration procedure.

Individual dispute resolution mechanisms

Where they exist, works councils play an important role in resolving disputes before they become legal disputes. Individual workers as well as works councils and trade unions have the right to carry a case to court. The trade unions, on the other hand, do not have to right to represent collective demands (Verbandsklagerecht) – establishing such a right for collective legal action remains a longstanding trade union demand.

Labour law is applicable only to relations based on private contract. Career public servants (Beamte), in the strict sense of the term, are not covered by German labour law. The relationship between career public servants and the state is not a private contractual relationship, but is defined by, and based on, public law. This is why the law on career public servants (Beamtenrecht) is considered to be a special section of public law.

Disputes concerning career public servants are not settled by labour courts, but by administrative courts.

Total number of cases brought before labour courts of first instance in Germany, including those pending from previous years











Source: Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS): Statistik der Arbeitsgerichtsbarkeit.

Use of alternative dispute-resolution mechanisms

The Labour Court Act (Arbeitsgerichtsgesetz, ArbGG) includes various alternative forms of dispute resolution. The most common one is the conciliation procedure (Güteverhandlung). In this procedure, the judge and the conflicting parties agree an out-of-court settlement. If an agreement cannot be reached, the case goes back to court. The transposition of EU legislation has strengthened the role of out-of-court mediation. Judges may appoint a judge not involved in the court case for the conciliation procedure (Güterichter); subject to the agreement of the conflicting parties, they also involve an out-of-court mediator for mediating the conflict. In case the parties cannot reach an agreement , the labour court is to decide the case.

Data on the number of mediation or conciliation cases is not available.

Individual employment relations

Individual employment relations

The individual employment relation concerns the relation between the individual worker and the employer. This relation is shaped by legal regulation and by the outcomes of social partner negotiations over the terms and conditions governing the employment relationship . This section presents information on the start and termination of the employment relationship and related entitlements and obligations in Germany.

Start and termination of the employment relationship

Requirements regarding an employment contract

Employers and workers conclude ‘employment contracts’ ( Arbeitsvertrag), meaning that the employer is in the position of giving the worker orders and that the worker is in a dependent position. Self-employed workers or freelancers conclude contracts to deliver work ( Werkverträge) or to provide services (Dienstverträge) and are not covered by labour law but by the civil code.

The minimum age requirement for entering an employment contract is 13. Children aged 13 to 15 years may conclude an employment contract with their parents’ consent. The contract can be concluded in writing or verbally but has to be laid down in written form within two weeks from the starting date of the work. The contract has to consider a given collective agreement or works agreement.

Dismissal and termination procedures

The Dismissal Protection Act (Kündigungsschutzgesetz) covers workers who have an employment contract with an employer for more than six months. Workers employed in establishments with up to 10 workers are not covered (small enterprises have been excluded since 2004).

Workers can be dismissed for personal reasons (voluntarily), for reasons of conduct or for business reasons. In the latter case, the dismissal is subject to selection based on social criteria if more than one worker is affected by the planned dismissal. This means that where several comparable jobs are at risk, older workers, workers with the longest tenure, those with family obligations or with a significant disability have the best chance not to be dismissed.

Entitlements and obligations

Parental, maternity and paternity leave

In 2017, the federal government amended occupational health and safety regulations, merging law protecting mothers ( Verordnung zum Schutz der Mütter am Arbeitsplatz, MuSchArbV) with the maternity leave regulation (Mutterschaftsschutzgesetz, MuSchG). The new MuSchG was extended to cover young women in vocational training, internships or training for a qualification; in addition, evening work (20:00–22:00) was liberalised on the condition that women apply for permission to work and that the public authorities give permission within six weeks of the application.

In 2014, an amendment of the given parental allowance scheme (Elterngeld) was enacted (starting 1 January2015). The new scheme, Elterngeld Plus, aims at reducing the share of mothers staying at home for up to three years and at promoting a double-earner model. It includes incentives to motivate mothers to take up part-time employment and for fathers to reduce working time and to take part in childcare.

Statutory leave arrangements

Maternity leave

Maximum duration

Eight weeks of pre-natal leave; 12 weeks of pre-natal leave in case the child is disabled. Post-natal maternity leave is considered to be part of parental leave (see below).



Who pays?

The employer.

Legal basis

Mothers Protection Act (Art.3 and 5) ( Mutterschutzgesetz, MuSchG)

Parental leave

Maximum duration

Parental leave is available for a maximum of three years. Since July 2015, parental leave can be taken in three blocks without the employer's consent: two blocks may lie between the third and eighth year of a child's life and last up to two years respectively (previously only twelve months). The employer may refuse the claim of a third block of parental leave between the third and eighth year of life only for urgent operational reasons. Parental leave allowance is paid for 14 months (if fathers choose to take two months of parental leave).


67% of net earnings. Threshold: minimum of €300, maximum of €1,800

Who pays?

Social security system

Legal basis

Act on parental leave allowance and parental leave ( Bundeselterngeld- und Elternzeitgesetz, BEEG)

Paternity leave

Maximum duration

A paternity leave regulation is not in place. Fathers are covered by the parental leave regulation-



Who pays?


Legal basis


Sick leave

Under the Act on the continuing of remuneration ( Entgeltfortzahlungsgesetz, EntgFG) of 1994, in case of sickness leave the employer is obliged to pay the full wage for up to six weeks. The worker must have been employed for a minimum period of at least four weeks and on the third day of sickness leave has to provide proof of incapacity of work from a medical doctor. After six weeks, the health insurance covers 70% of the gross salary in case of long-term sickness (under the Social Code Book V). Termination of an employment relationship while a worker is on sick leave is prohibited unless unlawful conduct is detected.

Retirement age

In 2007, the statutory retirement age was raised from 65 to 67 years. Gender differences do not apply. For smoothing the transgression to the new retirement age, the retirement age progressively increases (by months/year) from 65 to 67 years for workers born in the years 1947 to 1963.

In 2014 retirement reforms were enacted. Under the new regulation workers with 45 years of contributions to the statutory retirement scheme may retire at the age of 63 (if they were born in 1953 or earlier) or up to 65 (if born in 1963). In practice, the regulation covers predominantly male manual workers. Women born before 1952 with extended phases of non-employment because of family obligations may retire at an age of 60 years if they provide proof of 15 years of social security coverage and 10 years of paid contributions to the retirement scheme after their 40th birthday.



Pay: For workers, the reward for work and main source of income; for employers, a cost of production and focus of bargaining and legislation. This section looks into minimum wage setting in Germany and guides the reader to further material on collective wage bargaining.

Minimum wages

Following the 2014 Minimum Wage Act (Mindestlohngesetz, MiLoG), a national minimum wage has been in place since 1 January 2015. The MiLoG does not cover workers aged 18 years or younger (who instead are covered by the Youth Protection Act), trainees in vocational training or interns (defined as participating in qualification measures), and long-term unemployed in the first six months of employment. The Minimum Wage Commission (see below on bipartite bodies) debates the rise of the minimum wage level every two years, based on the rise of the index of agreed collective agreements. In 2018, the Commission suggested raising it to € 9,91, which has been in effect since 1 January 2019.

Sectoral minimum wages 2019 (in Euro)


West Germany

East Germany




construction (worker)



construction (craftsman)



roofing trade (worker)



roofing trade (craftsman)



electrical trade (assembling)



industrial cleaning (interior cleaning)



industrial cleaning (exterior cleaning)



cash and valuables service

11.80 – 14.28


cash and valuables transport

13.79 – 17.25


scaffold building



temporary work



painting (unlearned employers)



painting (learned employers)



care work



chimney sweep trade



stone cutting and sculpture work



Source: Schulten (2019) Tarifpolitischer Jahresbericht 2018, WSI-Tarifarchiv, p. 11.

For more information regarding the level and development of minimum wages, please see:

Collectively agreed pay outcomes

According to the WSI Collective Bargaining Archive, collectively agreed pay rose by 2.9% in 2019, compared to an increase of 3.3% in 2018 and 2.4% in 2017. The pay rise was slightly higher in East Germany (3.1%) than in West Germany (2.0%). Collectively agreed pay in East Germany still remains below the Western German average. The pay rise was strongest in the public services (3.2%) and the energy sector (3%). The 2018 increase was the second highest annual rate of increase in the past two decades, after the one of 2014.

For more detailed information on the most recent outcomes in terms of collectively agreed pay, please see:

Working time

Working time

Working time: ‘Any period during which the worker is working, at the employer’s disposal and carrying out his activities or duties, in accordance with national laws and/or practice’ (Directive 2003/88/EC). This section briefly summarises regulation and issues regarding working time, overtime, part-time work as well as working time flexibility in Germany.

Working time regulation

Working time is regulated under the Working Time Act ( Arbeitszeitgesetz, ArbZG), based on European regulation. The ArbZG does not cover civil servants (who are covered by ordinances of the Länder), workers in the transport sectors (covered by other national, European or international regulations), workers in liturgical services (covered by church law) and self-employed workers (who are not subject to working time regulation). The ArbZG can be opted out of via collective agreements and – under condition of an opening clause in the collective agreement – via works council agreements. If neither a collective agreement nor a works council is in place, the employer may turn to the public authorities for authorisation to deviate from the ArbZG. This can be granted in cases of urgency.

The ArbZG stipulates an 8-hour working day and 11 hours of rest. Weekly working time can be extended to a maximum of 60 hours (given that Saturday is a working day) under the condition of an adjustment time of six months (the EU Working Time Directive stipulates four months). The Act allows sectors with high shares of stand-by service workers to deviate from the regulations on resting periods (for example, in hospitals, nursing care, and hotels and restaurants) and to work more than 60 hours (including stand-by work).

Agreed working time is strongly influenced by sectoral collective agreements, which define monthly or weekly working time, rest periods and breaks, number of holidays, and hours of shift work and night work. A trend is the concluding of working time accounts or leave regulations by sectoral collective agreements. At establishment level, codetermination rights by the works council and works agreements concluded by the worker representatives and management play a dominant role in determining working hours, overtime regulations, flexible working time arrangements and mobile working.

For more detailed information on working time (including annual leave, statutory and collectively agreed working time), please consult:

Overtime regulation

Under the Working Time Act, employers have the right to demand overtime work in case of urgent extraordinary business needs or if the individual employment/work contract contains a specific provision for overtime.

Under the Working Time Act, the extension of working time (so-called ‘additional work’ Mehrarbeit) beyond the statutory norm falls within the remit of collective bargaining. Works councils and management hold the right to conclude extensions beyond the agreed norm. Overtime work (Mehrarbeit) lies beyond the threshold constituted by the negotiated norm. The agreements settle the form of compensation (time off or remuneration).

Part-time work

Part-time work is a widespread form of female employment in Germany. In response to the West German male breadwinner/single-earner model, the labour market reforms of the early 2000s promoted part-time work as a way of raising employment among women. The EU Labour Force Survey (EU-LFS) figures show that in 2019, 47.1% of female employees worked part/time, compared to 9.5% of male employees. The share of part-time workers on total employment in Germany in 2019 was 27.2%, a much higher proportion than the EU average for the same period (17.8%). Part-time work has increased for both men and women in Germany in 2019, against the general trend in the EU (see table below). In 2020 however, part-time employment has dropped significantly by 4.5 pp. to 22.7% in Germany – compared to a 1.2 pp change in EU27. The majority of part-time workers do not work in standard forms of employment but in atypical forms, the so-called mini-jobs.

Standard part-time work has been regulated under the Act on Part-time and Fixed-term Employment (Teilzeit und Befristungsgesetz, TzBfG) since 2000. In establishments with at least 15 employees, workers have the right to transfer from a full-time to a part-time position. Standard part-time work is liable to social security contributions, and workers’ rights are the same as those of full-time workers. A reform enabling part-time workers to go back to full-time work is under debate in Germany.

Under Social Code Book IV, two forms of marginal part-time work exist: part-time jobs paid up to a threshold of €450 per month (mini-jobs) and part-time jobs of very short duration (up to 70 days per year). An additional form (the midi-job) is defined by a maximum threshold of €850 per month. These forms of employment are covered by the statutory retirement system, but workers may opt not to pay any contributions to the retirement, health or employment security schemes. Employers pay a lump sum to the social security scheme.

Persons employed part time in Germany and EU27 (% of total employment)








Total (EU27)







Total (Germany)







Women (EU27)







Women (Germany)







Men (EU27)







Men (Germany)







Source: Eurostat, EU-LFS [lfsi_pt_a] – Persons employed part-time (20 to 64 years of age) – total and by sex

Involuntary part time

Involuntary part-time workers are defined as people who work part time because they could not find a full-time job.

Persons in involuntary part-time employment in Germany and EU27 (% of total part-time employment)








Total (EU27)







Total (Germany)







Women (EU27)







Women (Germany)







Men (EU27)







Men (Germany)







Source: Eurostat, EU-LFS [lfsa_eppgai] – Involuntary part-time employment as a percentage of the total part-time employment, by sex and age (20 to 64 years of age)

Night work

The Working Time Act (Arbeitszeitgesetz, Art. 2) defines ‘night time’ as the time between 23.00 h and 6.00 h (in the case of bakeries 22.00 to 5.00). ‘Night work’ is defined as any work performed during at least two hours of this night time. Workers are defined as ‘night workers’ if they work at night because of shift work or if they work at night for at least 48 days per year.

Shift work

The Working Time Act does not give a definition of shift work. Under Art. 6 it says that shift work is to be designed according to the latest academic expertise on occupational safety and health requirements.

Weekend work

Work on Sunday is regulated under Art. 9 and 10 of the Working Time Act. Art. 9 states that on Sundays and holidays work is prohibited from 0.00 h to 24.00 h. In the case of ongoing shift work, the 24 hour rest period may start six hours before or after the normal time frame. Art. 10 gives the exceptions to the regulation of Art. 9: shift workers in manufacturing (where compliance to Art.9 would result in the need for more staff); workers in bakeries (for a maximum of three hours); workers in certain financial services; firefighters and police; workers in hotels and restaurants, in hospitals, live performance, media, industrial cleaning, safety and control, transport, agriculture and others.

Rest and breaks

According to the Working Time Act (Art. 4), work of six to nine hours duration is to be interrupted for at least 30 minutes and work of more than nine hours duration for at least 45 minutes. The time of the breaks can be split in half. Workers may not work for more than six hours without a break.

According to Article 5, workers shall have a rest period of at least eleven hours. In hospitals, hotels and restaurants, care professions, media and agriculture the rest period can be cut by one hour under the condition of compensation within a four-week period.

Working time flexibility

Working time flexibility is a major issue in public debate since employers call for more working time flexibility and a 40-hour week whereas workers complain about overtime and call for more autonomy in setting their working time. While a reform of the working time act has been postponed, sectoral collective bargaining partners have reached various agreements on working time at sectoral and company level which provide for new working time arrangement or for new options to choose between a wage rise or more leave or days off.

Collective agreements and works agreements provide for various forms of working time flexibility in terms of weekend work, overtime, shift work or working time accounts. Flexitime (Gleitzeit) is one of the most longstanding forms; a new development is the provision of leave for training or care purposes (Bispinck 2017).

Health and well-being

Health and well-being

Maintaining health and well-being should be a high priority for workers and employers alike. Health is an asset closely associated with a person’s quality of life and longevity, as well as their ability to work. A healthy economy depends on a healthy workforce: organisations can experience loss of productivity through the ill-health of their workers. This section explores psychosocial risks and health and safety in Germany.

Health and safety at work

The Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsmedizin und Arbeitssicherheit, BAUA) attributes the significant decline in workplace accidents in Germany to campaigns on prevention and safety policies. But the trend also relates to a decline in manual manufacturing work (BAUA 2014). Incidence rates are measured based on the number of accidents suffered by full-time workers (rather than the number of employees). In 2015, the number of accidents at work per 1,000 workers (full-time equivalents) stood at the all-time low of 19.7 compared to 23 in 2008 (BAUA, 2016, 2017, 2018). The number of workplace accidents is rising again in Germany since 2016, reaching an all-time high in 2018 (24.2 accidents per 1,000 employees).

Accidents at work, with four days’ absence or more – working days lost






All accidents





Percent change on previous year





Per 1,000 employees





Source: Eurostat, [hsw_mi01] and [lfsa_eegaed]

National statistics give higher figures than Eurostat; they are based on data from the sectoral employer liability associations (Berufsgenossenschaften) and the liability association of the agricultural sector, both of which record accidents at work resulting in four or more days’ absence. Data is published in BAUA’s annual report on safety and health at work ( Sicherheit und Gesundheit bei der Arbeit, SuGA).

Psychosocial risks

Monitoring psychosocial risks at work is a major issue in Germany, as mental disorders account for a growing number of days of absence from work and for long sickness leaves. The regulation in place is the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Arbeitsschutzgesetz, ArbschG) which, since December 2013, stipulates that work may have detrimental effects on mental health and that work ought to be designed not to pose such risks. The Act sets out how psychosocial risks should be assessed and gives control of compliance to the labour inspectorate. In case of ongoing non-compliance, the employer has to pay an administrative fine.

The implementation of the Act is supported by a new work programme on psychic health (2013–2017) launched by the Joint German Occupational Safety and Health Strategy (Gemeinsame Deutsche Arbeitsschutzstrategie, GDA ), a joint initiative by the national and the regional states and insurers.

Preceding the amendment of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Federal Labour Ministry, the German Confederation of Trade Unions DGB and the Federal Association of Employer Organisations BDA published a joint statement on psychic health risks at workplace level and the need for prevention. An initiative by the Federal Council (council of the 16 regional states) to enact a legislative order on psychosocial risk prevention was rejected by Parliament.

For more detailed information on health and well-being at work, please consult:

Skills, learning and employability

Skills, learning and employability

Skills are the passport to employment; the better skilled an individual, the more employable they are. Good skills also tend to secure better-quality jobs and better earnings. This section briefly summarises the German system for ensuring skills and employability and presents the current situation of training provision.

National system for ensuring skills and employability

One pillar of the German system is the dual vocational training scheme; it combines training in vocational schools and workplace-based training in establishments. The dual training may be complemented by workshops run by the guilds and chambers of commerce, in order to compensate for the bias caused by training at only one company. These extra courses usually take three or four weeks a year. The time spent at vocational school is approximately 60 days a year, in blocks of one or two weeks at a time spread out over the year.

Occupational trends and skill needs are monitored by the Federal Institute for Education and Vocational Training ( Bundesinstitut für Berufsbildung, BIBB), which is also in charge of developing qualification schemes and of monitoring the supply and demand in dual training posts. The social partners are represented on the board of BIBB as well as on the boards of the Chambers of Industry and Chambers of Crafts which set the examinations and are involved in the design of training programmes.

Collective bargaining covers the wages and working hours of trainees and their options to be hired after termination of training. At establishment level, works councils have codetermination rights with regard to the implementation of the in-company vocational training.

Since late 2014, a trilateral alliance on vocational and further training ( Allianz für Aus- und Weiterbildung) is in place under the responsibility of the federal economics minister. The alliance has sought to substantially raise the number of apprenticeship posts and internships, to cooperate with the Federal Employment Agency with regard to support measures for school leavers and unskilled, unemployed and foreign workers from European Member States and refugees. In September 2015, the partners launched a joint statement saying that they will cooperate in the labour market integration of refugees.

Furthermore, trilateral alliances on skilled labour ( Fachkräfteallianzen) operate at regional and local levels. With regard to refugees, social partners in the metal, chemical and in printing sectors have extended their collective agreements on the integration and training of low-achieving school levers to refugees.


Legally employers are not obliged to provide vocational training or further training. If they do so, the Works Constitution Act stipulates that they should cooperate with the works council in these regards. Under the laws of the regional states (Länder), workers have the right to take five days of education leave per year (Bildungsurlaub). This form of paid leave can be taken for adult education (languages, health, political, societal topics) or for occupation-related training. The training has to follow set standards and the providers have to be certified to provide paid training leave. In practice, training vacations are most often taken by public sector workers and workers in large companies.

Additionally, paid time off for training is also provided by works agreements concluded by employers and works councils. This form is most often realised in the public sector and in large companies.

In the 2015 collective bargaining round, the social partners in the metal and machinery sector union agreed on the inclusion of paid training leave in the sectoral agreement.

Work organisation

Work organisation

Work organisation underpins economic and business development and has important consequences for productivity, innovation and working conditions. Eurofound research finds that some types of work organisation are associated with a better quality of work and employment. Therefore, developing or introducing different forms of work organisation are of particular interest because of the expected effects on productivity, efficiency and competitiveness of companies, as well as on workers’ working conditions. Ongoing research by Eurofound, based on EurWORK, the European Working Conditions Survey and the European Company Survey, monitors developments in work organisation.

For more detailed information on work organisation, please consult:

For Germany, the European Company Survey (ECS) 2019 found over one quarter of all establishments were highly digitalized (28%). A significantly higher proportion of large companies (250 employees or more) were highly digitalized (46%). The number of highly digitalized establishments was lowest among small and micro-companies with 10 to 49 employees (26%), while more than one third (38%) of medium-sized companies with between 50 and 249 employees were digitalized. Only around 13% of companies included in the survey for Germany were using data analytics to monitor employee performance, though the number was slightly higher for medium-sized companies with between 50 and 249 employees (19%).

In 2014, the federal government introduced the Digital Agenda 2014–2017, aimed at paving the way for Germany to become the ‘digital growth motor of Europe’. The agenda set out to accelerate the expansion of the digital infrastructure and promote the digitalisation of the economy, and is steered by the Federal Ministries for the Economy (BMWi), Transport (BMVI) and Research (BMBF). The Labour Ministry (BMAS) plays a minor role and is involved in only one out of seven fields of activity, called ‘digital economy and digital work’. BMAS’ integration can be attributed to trade unions who have addressed the impact of digitalisation on employment and the quality of work for years. In response, BMAS released a White paper on the needs for future regulation of work in late 2016, which was widely discussed in 2017.

Relevant surveys and studies

In the face of digitalisation, the Federal Institute for Employment Research (Institut für Arbeitsmarkt- und Berufsforschung, IAB) in cooperation with the Centre for Economic Research (Zenrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung Mannheim, ZEW ) conducted a representative IAB-ZEW Working World 4.0 Survey of 2,032 companies in the manufacturing and services sectors in May 2016. In 2017, the survey was extended to also include social security data; moreover, results of an upcoming employee survey will be added. The new dataset Digitalisierung und Wandel der Beschäftigung (DiBaWe) will serve research on the social policy implications of digitalisation.

Equality and non-discrimination at work

Equality and non-discrimination at work

The principle of equal treatment requires that all people, and in the context of the workplace all workers, have the right to receive the same treatment, and will not be discriminated against on the basis of criteria such as age, sex, disability, nationality, ethnicity and religion.

The legal basis of equality and non-discrimination at work in Germany is the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and the General Act on Equal Treatment (Allgemeines Gleichbehandlungsgesetz, AGG). The AGG is monitored by the Federal Anti-Discrimination Office which publishes monitoring reports. Anti- discrimination offices also exist at regional level and as local contact points. There is some indication that cases of discrimination are significantly underreported. Juridical disputes are solved by local and regional labour courts.

Equal pay and gender pay gap

From 2006 to 2019, the gender pay gap in Germany decreased from 22.3% to 20%. In Western Germany, the gender pay gap declined by 10.5% (from 23.9% to 22%). In Eastern Germany, the gap remained at much lower levels, but grew by 1.4% between 2006 and 2019 (from 5.6% to 7%). This differential development is due to the traditional male bread winner model in the West, the legacy of a high share of mothers working short part time, a lack of childcare facilities and a strong gap in wages between male dominated sectors with high collective bargaining coverage and female-dominated sectors with low coverage. In East Germany, the working time gap between men and women is low and the collective bargaining coverage of both sexes is low. The German Federal Office of Statistics finds that women benefited from the introduction of the statutory minimum wage somewhat more than men.

In 2017, the government adopted a new law (Entgelttransparenzgesetz) aimed at reducing gender pay inequality, which enables an individual to request information on the pay criteria in companies with more than 200 employees. Also, private employers (companies with more than 500 workers) are obliged to draft reports about the pay structure and wage equality in their company. The effectiveness of this regulation is currently being evaluated by the Federal Government. First results of the WSI Works Council Survey 2018 (Baumann et al, 2019) suggest only minor effects of the new law on gender equality in pay.

Quota regulations

On 1 May 2015, a new act on the balanced share of women in managerial positions in private companies and in the public sector was enacted. The act, which is in force since 1 January 2016, stipulates a 30% quota for women for company supervisory boards. Listed companies subject to parity co-determination regulation have to fill vacancies with women until the quota is reached. In 2018 this applied to about 100 companies. Other large companies which are either listed or covered by standard co-determination regulation have to design guidelines on how to reach the quota. The act also addresses companies in public ownership and stipulates that these companies should aim to have 50% women in managerial positions starting in 2018.

By 2018, less than a third (28%–30%) of the co-determined, listed companies had reached the 30% quota (FIDAR 2019) which is a significant rise compared to 2010 (9.7%). In contrast, the new legislation had only a very low impact on the share of women on company boards. It grew form 3% (1020) to 7.4% (2018). (WSI 2019)

A second quota regulation affects disabled workers. Under Article 71 of Social Code Book IX, establishments with 20 workers and more have to employ a 5% share of disabled workers. Recent public data on the quota is not available. In 2013, about 76% of all companies employed at least one person with disabilities, but typically, only large companies reached or exceeded the 4.6% quota. The fines paid for non-compliance (about a quarter of all establishments prefer to pay a fine rather than to employ a disabled person) fund the public pay supplements to employers that do employ disabled persons (FAZ 13.12.2013).



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