EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Eurogate, Germany: Integration into the labour market of people at risk of exclusion – long-term unemployed


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integrating people at risk of exclusion into the labour market

Eurogate introduced a policy to integrate long-term unemployed people into the workforce. After intensive selection procedures, successful applicants are trained as gantry crane or van carrier operators. Participants then receive a fixed-term employment contract for two years followed by a permanent contract. In the last six years, the company created 1,350 new jobs, allocating 600 of these to long-term unemployed people. Since 2001, Eurogate only recruits long-term unemployed people for blue-collar jobs.

Organisational background

As Europe’s leading container terminal and logistics group, Eurogate operates 11 sea terminals worldwide. In 1999, Eurogate was formed as the result of a merger of EUROKAI Hamburg and the BGL Logistics Group of Bremerhaven.

At present, Eurogate operates two container terminals in northern Germany – one terminal in Hamburg and one in Bremerhaven. A third terminal will be built in Wilhelmshaven in the northwest of the country and is expected to begin operations in 2010.

In Germany, the company’s workforce increased from 2,670 employees in 2000 to 4,020 workers in 2005. Of the new jobs created as a result of the merger, more than 600 of these positions were allocated to long-term unemployed young women and men under the company’s policy to help get this group back into employment. In Hamburg, employment levels increased from 1,130 employees in 2000 to 1,760 workers at the end of 2005. This employment growth of about 100 new jobs annually in recent years was expected to continue in 2006 and beyond. Currently, 80% of employees are blue-collar workers. Dock work for these employees implies shift work during the week and at weekends. Since dock work is an attractive job owing to the good remuneration level and job security, staff turnover at the company is significantly low. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of female employment in the traditionally male-dominated area of working on the docks grew from almost 0% to 5%.

In 2006, the programme initiated by the company to integrate long-term unemployed people into the labour market won an award in the ‘Creating employment – Companies show responsibility’ competition. Collective labour agreements and factory agreements are in place to regulate employment and working conditions. The company has local works councils, a group works council and a company works council. Trade union density currently stands at around 80%–90%. Social dialogue between all the parties is cooperative.

Description of the initiative

The programme was launched in 2001 in Hamburg, in 2005 in Bremerhaven and will also be implemented in Wilhelmshaven in due course. The initiative was put forward by the labour director. He argued that companies have to take responsibility in creating employment. The main reason given for initiating the programme is corporate social responsibility (CSR) and the fact that the company will benefit from the publicly financed harbour infrastructure. It was a decision by the board to only recruit long-term unemployed people for blue-collar jobs.

The policy is directed towards long-term unemployed people and young people up to the age of 35 years. It covers three key elements: an intensive candidate selection procedure over a two-week period, followed by a three-month training programme, and further qualification to skilled dock workers during employment. After the training phase, participants receive a fixed-term employment contract for two years and subsequently a permanent contract. Of those candidates who were successful in the intensive selection procedure almost all of them manage to receive a permanent employment contract.

The local employment offices and the tripartite special harbour training institution in Hamburg and a training institution in Bremen cooperated with the company in developing the qualification and selection procedure and in implementing the measure. The company cooperates quite closely with the Federal Employment Agency. An appropriate qualification and selection programme had been developed jointly between the parties. First, the long-term unemployed people are proposed by the employment offices. Thereafter, the selection procedure is conducted in cooperation with the Further Training Centre Harbour in Hamburg. The selection procedure had been constantly improved in a process of reflecting on the experiences.

The works council is also involved in the selection phase and has the chance to talk to all applicants for two hours. According to the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz), the works council must only be involved in the decision to grant a fixed-term employment contract after the training initiative. The company management and the works council cooperate closely.

The assessment takes place in two groups of 20 persons each from which eight candidates will qualify for the training programme. During the assessment, a variety of skills are tested. The most important precondition for choosing applicants is an ability to cope with heights. The tests take place on a container crane, a van carrier and a lashing cage. Only people who have no fear of heights are suitable candidates for the training. Other important factors looked at in the assessment include the ability of candidates to work in a team, concentration levels, mechanic skills and social competence. To complete the testing, each candidate must undergo a medical examination.

The school certificates and vocational qualifications held by the applicants differ. Some already have a vocational qualification, often in a very different occupation with no reference to dock work. Such a vocational qualification is not required to make an application but is seen as a first indication for the ability to complete an education programme.

During the three months of training, participants still receive unemployment benefits. Successful applicants are trained as qualified gantry crane or van carrier operators. In the training programme, applicants become familiar with the work processes and the entire workflow of a container terminal. The participants have to learn how to read stowage plans or to find out how a ship is laid out. The training programme is continuously attended by representatives from the human resources (HR) department. The participants are described as highly motivated and very engaged in the training.

The work is organised by two teams of workers: for example, a team of 25 persons in Hamburg and another team of 12 persons in Bremerhaven are responsible for the entire process and both teams work autonomously from each other. Although it has not been completely realised, the company strives to give each participant in the programme a multifunctional competence which would allow that each worker can carry out any task. In Hamburg, participants are integrated into the existing teams. However, in Bremerhaven, successful participants work in a separate team. This is related to a particularly more flexible working time regulation for new recruits at the Bremerhaven site. The agreement to the working time regulation was a precondition for the launch of the programme in Bremerhaven.

After two or three years of employment, further qualification measures are implemented for skilled dock workers. This obligation is agreed to in the individual employment contracts and related to the sectoral collective agreement. In Hamburg, employees are given ‘compensation days’ for shift work for the training measure. The programme is mainly funded by the company with the continuous payment of salaries during the training period. Theoretical training takes place in the tripartite training institution. Areas of expertise covered during the training include dangerous goods and basic knowledge in business and commerce. Training is organised in weekly blocks between school and work. Participants have to pass an examination at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce for their skilled dock worker certification.


In Hamburg, the workforce doubled as a result of the scheme and more than 50% of workers took part in the programme. Supported by the rate of economic growth in the past six years, the company has created over 1,350 new jobs in Germany. Up to 120 new posts were created in Bremerhaven, while in Hamburg around 650 long-term unemployed people have been integrated into permanent employment. Over the next three years, the company plans to take on a total of 300 new industrial staff through the training scheme. Since the beginning of 2005, the company recruits exclusively long-term unemployed people, as well as unqualified young women and men between 20 and 25 years of age for blue-collar jobs at the Bremerhaven site. Other applicants are not considered in this case.

In general, the experience of the company with the long-term unemployed people has been very positive. The success rate of the policy to recruit these people is exceptionally high. Every second participant succeeds in the two weeks selection procedure and is then certified to participate in a qualification programme of three months’ duration. As a rule, an indefinite employment contract is granted to the participants. Key to the success of the programme have been the systematic selection process and a comprehensive concept of training and further education.

Both the company’s management and works council explain the focus on recruiting younger unemployed people by highlighting the high average age of the workforce. In addition, according to the collective agreement, workers aged over 55 years may not work night shifts or at weekends. Apart from some doubts expressed by the company’s employees at the beginning of the programme, no conflict with the existing workforce has been reported.

Exemplary and contextual factors

The programme strictly targets unskilled long-term unemployed people. To achieve the necessary goals, cooperation must take place between the company, local employment offices and training institutions, while the intensive involvement of the works councils is also a prerequisite. The systematic approach of the company towards qualification and employability of long-term unemployed people is exceptional, as is the programme’s success rate. Through the programme, women have also been employed in the almost exclusively male jobs on the docks, which is a result that also impacts positively on the working atmosphere.

Anni Weiler, AWWW GmbH, Göttingen

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