Germany: Debates and first steps by social partners towards labour market integration of refugees

Around one million asylum seekers arrived in Germany in 2015, sparking off a heated debate among politicians and social partners about their integration. 

Several asylum regulations were eased in 2015 to improve asylum seekers’ prospects to integrate smoothly into the German labour market and society. While Chancellor Merkel's position on no upper limit to the refugee inflow has been challenged by the Christian Democrats' (CDU) Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), and other far-right parties, the first projections on the possible effects of this migration wave on the labour market are available.

Due to the lengthy application procedure for asylum seekers, experts predict a comparatively low rise in unemployment figures in 2016 (between 40,000 and 70,000), but a stronger one in 2017. While rising unemployment figures in the medium term are projected, the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) also highlights that the available labour force will grow by around 600,000 persons by 2018 (given that 2 million asylum seekers will enter Germany). As many applicants are young persons, the average age of the population, as well as the projected gap in the available labour population, will decrease in the future.

Occupational and language skills

The occupational and language skills of asylum seekers were also the subject of debate, as both characteristics strongly influence the integration success of migrants. In December 2015, the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) held an 'integration summit'. The Federal Employment Agency estimates that every third refugee of the 200,000 who entered NRW in 2015 could be qualified for a job in Germany. According to a company survey by  research institute ifo, 59% of the over 3,000 companies surveyed thought it very likely they would employ a refugee as an unskilled worker or apprentice. However, only 22% of the companies expected to be able to hire qualified labour from this pool. The ifo therefore calls for refugees and other young persons with no qualifications to be exempted from the national minimum wage (that only took effect at the beginning of 2015). Such a step would lower labour market barriers for refugees who should be allowed to work and study German at the same time. Unions, however, are firmly opposed to such a step.

Social partners’ integration initiatives

Given the huge influx of people, social partners agree that they need to put much effort into integrating suitable refugees into vocational training and apprenticeship programmes in the upcoming year. The first efforts are already underway. Bavarian employers announced at the end of December 2015 that they would extend their refugee initiative begun in May 2015. From January 2016, suitable young refugees can apply for language support and internships, in order to prepare themselves for an apprenticeship. Employers in the metal and electrical industry in Hesse announced at the beginning of October 2015 that they would extend the application of the collective agreement for apprentices to refugees. Employers in the metal and electrical industry in Thuringia and the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall) took a similar step for their collective bargaining region. German Rail (Deutsche Bahn) signed an agreement stating the intention to include and employ refugees. German Confederation of Trade Unions (DGB) and the German Confederation of Skilled Crafts (ZDH) joined forces to agree an initiative aimed at promoting the employment of refugees in the skilled trades.


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