Lukas Krämer worked in a workshop for the disabled for five years, checking the fittings six hours a day. Workshop workers in Germany receive an average of EUR 200 per month, which corresponds to an hourly wage of EUR 1.35. Kramer thinks it’s unfair. “You can’t live on this money, it’s starvation wages,” he said over the phone. This is why he launched the #StelltUnsEin petition: for the minimum wage, for employment in an employee relationship, for more justice. About 130,000 people have already signed. But would the introduction of the minimum wage really improve the situation of workshop employees?
In Germany there are more than 2,900 establishments for disabled people and more than 320,000 adults are employed there. The compensation debate is not entirely new, it has been passionate and emotional for many years. It’s about justice and inclusion, the definition and value of work, the way we want to live as a society. The workshops must not only promote integration into the general labor market, they are also businesses that must generate income.
Open detailed view
Lukas Krämer started a petition that more than 130,000 people have already signed.
(Photo: Anne-Sophie Stolz / Aktion Mensch)
This is where things get complicated: the workshops pay a salary which consists of a base amount of at least 99 euros per month and an individual supplement. Both are financed by the economic activity of the workshops. Added to this is a tax-financed employment aid, which currently amounts to 52 euros. It is opaque and difficult for employees to understand. And above all too little, many need additional financial support such as basic security. Reik Lehmann wrongly sees the workshops in criticism: “They are publicly made guilty of the situation and of the political orientations which they cannot influence. Lehmann is the workshop manager of the Berlin dolphin workshops. He has worked in this field for 22 years and has advised the SPD in the ongoing coalition negotiations. Lehmann is also in favor of reforming the system, but stresses that employees would be entitled to less basic social security if wages were to increase. The workshops, on the other hand, would have great difficulty in generating the necessary funds.
The Berlin mosaic workshops for the disabled calculated the increase in the basic amount already decided by the federal government and came to an additional 500,000 euros. Some workshops are even set to close due to additional work pressure, fear the workshop councils in Germany, which represent the employees. In addition, the pressure at work would increase considerably, since all employees would have to earn the high wages themselves.
(Re) insertion into the general labor market is extremely rare
The minimum wage is also intended only for employees. Employees in workshops for people with disabilities, on the other hand, only have a status comparable to that of employees, which is linked to protective rights such as the guarantee of employment, the absence of obligation to perform and the non-performance. – practical dismissal. The wide variety of different impairments also makes it more difficult to find a good solution. The missions of the workshops also consist in helping their employees to (re) integrate the general labor market.
“The transition from the workshop to the labor market is still too rarely done”, specifies the Federal Association of workshops for disabled people and explains: “In the workshop, by definition, work people who do not work, not yet or not yet under the general labor market conditions can function, which means that they are permanently disabled. It is estimated that (re) integration into the labor market is only about one percent successful. But workshop manager Lehmann contradicts: “We do a lot more than one percent, but unfortunately most of them come back to us. The pressure to perform and the expectations are often just too high.
Workshop councils also criticize the fact that, on the one hand, the private sector is not ready to accept people with disabilities and, at the same time, is often not a place where people with low productivity feel comfortable. Another problem is the equalization charge. According to this, companies with more than 20 jobs must fill 5% of them with people with severe disabilities. If they don’t, they have to pay financial compensation, which ensures that many “redeem themselves”, so to speak.
In terms of inclusion, the electoral programs hardly provide any concrete suggestions
The Ministry of Labor has also taken up the subject and launched a study in 2020 which aims to produce a transparent, sustainable and long-lasting remuneration system. A first interim report was published at the end of October. According to the analysis, compensation has even decreased over the years: while the national average monthly salary fell from 223.58 euros in 2017 to 228.86 euros in 2018, it fell to 220.28 euros in 2019. There are three approaches to fair wages: increasing employment assistance, which the Union parliamentary group recommends, among other things, to be based on what is called a “base currency”, as suggested by the workshop council, or introduce a general statutory minimum wage, for which Lukas Krämer, for example, is campaigning. In the next step, the foremen and their employees should be interviewed. The Ministry of Labor wants to present its final report by mid-2023.
There was a lot of talk about social justice in the election campaign, and inclusion was also an issue. But what would a traffic light coalition really change? More or less concrete approaches can be found in all electoral programs. “We are committed to creating a single point of contact for employers of small and medium-sized enterprises who can advise on issues such as accessibility or wage subsidies,” explains the SPD. The FDP notes that the employees of the workshops represent “a significant potential and insufficiently taken into account for the primary labor market”.
Green MEP Corinna Rüffer was not only the spokesperson for disability policy, but is now also the patron of Lukas Krämer, who supports her in her work on social media. Rüffer observes the workshops with concern: “Over time, it becomes more and more anachronistic: there are more employees, the transition becomes more difficult and the workshops have more and more difficulty to function in a competitive way. You are under immense pressure. Rüffer also believes that the workshop wage should not stay that way, “but the minimum wage debate is lacking”. The next federal government must now set the course, the complex system must be “untangled and fundamentally reformed”. “If there is no improvement in this constellation, then the disappointment is very, very great.”