December 05, 2018

German Institute for Human Rights condemns “heavy labor exploitation” of migrant workers in Germany

German Institute for Human Rights condemns “heavy labor exploitation” of migrant workers in Germany

The German Institute for Human Rights criticized the situation of migrant workers in Germany in its third annual report. The institute noted many migrant workers are affected by “heavy labor exploitation” and considers protection against exploitation in Germany to be inadequate. 

Interviews conducted by the institute with migrant workers from countries like Peru, Syria, and Pakistan, and EU states like Bulgaria and Romania, revealed migrants receive less money than they are entitled to. The report notes that many workers earn “much less than the minimum wage,” which is currently €8.84, or have their wages completely withheld.

Employers often do not pay workers overtime or contribute to their social security, and the workers have “virtually no means of enforcing their wage claims in court." 

IZA World of Labor author, Kathryn H. Anderson, has written an article about the economic situation of immigrant workers. She notes: “Immigrants earn less than natives when they enter the host country, but their wages grow over time. But some immigrant groups never reach wage parity with natives.”

As a resolve to this, she suggests introducing policies that “encourage education and help immigrants to develop skills” to promote assimilation and broaden job opportunities. 

Industries that are most affected by labor exploitation include meat processing, construction, transportation, and nursing. Language barriers, lack of legal skills, employer dependency, and lack of evidence are contributing factors to the “risk-free” exploitation of migrant workers in Germany. 

Lack of evidence includes absent employment contracts and missing payslips, meaning employees can not claim any unpaid wages or document their exploitation. 

Thirty-three people were interviewed by the Institute, out of which, 12 were able to initiate proceedings before the labor court and eight of them were successful. Even if the labor court concludes that workers are owed wages, the judgment cannot always be enforced if the employer declares insolvency, cannot be traced by the authorities, or establishes a company under another name.

In one case, a Romanian civil engineer received his wages irregularly, and then not at all. When he filed a lawsuit against his employer, he was fired by text message. 

The Institute suggests that measures need to be imposed to strengthen migrant workers’ legal protection, improve access to the courts for those affected, reinforce documentation obligations for employers, and ease the burden of proof for employees. 

Read more about migration policy here.