Better wages for cleaners

16th of March 2011

As German reporter Thomas Schulte-Marxloh explains, the hourly wage for contract cleaning staff increased at the beginning of this year.

Since January 1 this year the 900,000 employees in the contract cleaning business have been earning higher wages, as Johannes Bungart, managing director of the BIV (German association for the contract cleaning industry) had announced in December 2010. Now the hourly wage for contract cleaners is 8.55 euros in former West-Germany or 7.00 euros in former East-Germany.
"From January 2011 our hourly wages for non-skilled workers in the western part of Germany are above the minimum hourly wages of 8.50 euros as demanded by the trade union DGB," Bungart said. After wages had been increased by 3.8 per cent in the East and 3.1 per cent in the West in January 2010, another rise of 2.5 per cent (East) or 1.8 per cent (West) was following in 2011.

Bungart turned against the common characterisation of the contract cleaning industry as a ‘low wage business sector’ and pointed out that the hourly rate for the cleaning of glass or facades of buildings, for example, is 11.33 euros (West) or 8.88 euros (East). “Looking at these hourly wages I believe that everybody who is talking about a ‘low-wage-business’ simply does not know the labour market’s reality”, Bungart commented.

Minimum wage vital

Despite the minimum wages which have been implemented in the contract cleaning industry, the association reinforced its demand for general statutory minimum wages in Germany. "Only general and statutory minimum wages can avoid wage dumping and a sense-less price competition which will increase domestic unemployment and endanger the social insurance systems," the BIV stated its view.

Minimum wages were indispensible, the BIV pointed out, in particular when considering the right of unrestricted free movement of workers which the eight new EU members will enjoy, coming into effect on May 1, 2011. "Then many workers in many industries will have to compete with workers from countries where hourly wages of between two and four euros were usual in the market," said Bungart.

Prosecution likely

Employers who do not pay the minimum wages are liable to prosecution. A respective violation of this law was punished for the first time in 2010 when the Higher Regional Court of Magdeburg sentenced the owner of a contract cleaning company. He paid hourly wages of 1.79 euros to his workers who also had to work in 12-hour shifts. Officially he employed his workers – mainly immigrants from Russia who he met at motorway restaurants – as so-called ‘mini-jobbers’ and paid them a monthly wage of between 60-170 euros.

In the end they had to work 12 shifts per month, each 12 hours long. Instead of 1.79 euros per hour the employees should have received the valid minimum wage of 7.68 euros. Each worker should have received at least 1,290 euros per month. The convicted employer also caused a shortfall of 69,000 euros to the social insurance system as he had not paid the respective contributions.

The Higher Regional Court of Magdeburg made it clear: a violation of the minimum wage  is not a trivial offence. Of course, one might regard minimum wages as a tool of protection of domestic markets. Other voices, however, expect a reincarnation of slavery once all limits have vanished…


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