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Low-Wage Work in Germany

Gerhard Bosch, Claudia Weinkopf

Publication Year: 2008

In recent years, the German government has intentionally expanded the low-wage work sector in an effort to reduce exceptionally high levels of unemployment. As a result, the share of the German workforce employed in low-paying jobs now rivals that of the United States. Low Wage Work in Germany examines both the federal policies and changing economic conditions that have driven this increase in low-wage work. The new “mini-job” reflects the federal government’s attempt to make certain low-paying jobs attractive to both employers and employees. Employers pay a low flat rate for benefits, and employees, who work a limited number of hours per week, are exempt from social security and tax contributions. Other factors, including slow economic growth, a declining collective bargaining system, and the influx of foreign workers, also contribute to the growing incidence of low-wage work. Yet while both Germany and the U.S. have large shares of low-wage workers, German workers receive health insurance, four weeks of paid vacation, and generous old age support—benefits most low-wage workers in the U.S. can only dream of. The German experience offers an important opportunity to explore difficult trade-offs between unemployment and low-wage work.

Published by: Russell Sage Foundation

Series: Russell Sage Foundation Case Studies of Job Quality in Advanced Economies

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v

About the Authors

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pp. vii

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Introduction: The German Story

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pp. 1-14

By any reasonable standard definition of “low-wage work,” about a quarter of American wage earners are low-wage workers. The corresponding figure is smaller, sometimes much smaller, in other comparable advanced capitalist countries...

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pp. 15-18

Surely not in Germany!” one may be tempted to answer when asked about low pay in Germany. And indeed, Germany was for many years regarded as a country that by international standards had a particularly low wage spread—that is, relatively small differences...

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1. Low-Wage Work in Germany: An Overview

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pp. 19-112

Germany was long regarded as a country with relatively low income inequality. According to studies by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD 1996, 1997), income inequality in Germany was still declining...

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2. Pay in Customer Services Under Pressure: Call Center Agents

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pp. 113-146

Call centers have certain features that set them apart from the other industries under study. They do not in fact constitute an industry as such, but a specific form of work organization. Telephone customer inquiries, which formerly used to be scattered among...

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3. Wild West Conditions in Germany?! Low-Skill Jobs in Food Processing

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pp. 147-176

Wild West Conditions in Germany” ran the headline of a January 2005 article in the German weekly STERN on the German meat processing industry. The quotation came from Danish trade union boss Peter Bostrup, who had said, referring to Tulip...

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4. The Polarization of Working Conditions: Cleaners and Nursing Assistants in Hospitals

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pp. 177-213

The hospital sector is not one of the typical low-wage sectors, but it is traditionally characterized by low wage differentiation, a core feature of “German capitalism” (Streeck 1997). For a long period, even the two groups of employees...

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5. Still Lost and Forgotten? The Work of Hotel Room Attendants in Germany

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pp. 214-252

In Franz Kafka’s novel The Castle, written in the early 1920s, Pepi the chambermaid wrestles with her fate: “As a chambermaid one did in time come to feel one was quite lost and forgotten; it was like working down a...

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6. Low-Paid but Committed to the Industry: Salespeople in the Retail Sector

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pp. 253-287

Reports on the Wal-Mart system do not sound at all unfamiliar to German ears. In Germany, as in the United States, large retail companies are growing primarily by squeezing out smaller retailers, and that growth is also being achieved by means...

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7. Summary and Conclusions

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pp. 288-314

Germany has long been noted for its well-balanced income structure. Between the 1980s and the early 1990s, the share of low-paid workers actually declined, albeit only slightly, against the general international trend. In most...


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pp. 315-327

E-ISBN-13: 9781610440769
Print-ISBN-13: 9780871540621

Page Count: 336
Publication Year: 2008

Series Title: Russell Sage Foundation Case Studies of Job Quality in Advanced Economies