Washroom services in German court

23rd of September 2014
Washroom services in German court

Thomas Schulte-Marxloh reports from Germany on court cases brought against two companies responsible for cleaning motorway service station washrooms.

More than 10 years ago Autobahn (motorway) drivers hesitated to use the free toilets of German motorway service areas because of poor hygiene standards there. These days they can enjoy the comfort of well maintained washrooms for an obligatory fee of 0.70 euro; 0.50 euro of the voucher is valid for use in the respective motorway restaurant.

Today most German motorway service areas, belong to Tank & Rast, a company which co-operates with local tenants who actually run the petrol stations and/or restaurants. In order to keep the washrooms tidy, the vast majority of these tenants work with Sanifair, a subsidiary of Tank & Rast, which operates the washrooms of these areas. Sani-fair hires subcontractors who provide the cleaning personnel.

This form of franchise system is the result of the privatisation in 1998 which was aimed at maintaining the existing infrastructure of restaurants and petrol stations along the Autobahn; maintaining the operational structure (medium sized tenant companies), preservation of multiple petrol suppliers while considering the legitimate interests of the mainly SME tenants and, last but not least, the avoidance of monopolies.

Today Sanifair not only serves Tank & Rast but also operates washrooms in department stores, malls and train stations. For any franchise company reliable partners are paramount. However, it seems that some franchisees of Sanifair played unfair and neither paid attention to existing laws nor to existing franchise agreements.

This June the department of public prosecution in Mainz initiated court proceedings against two contract cleaning companies which cleaned Sanifair washrooms at 27 motorway service areas in Germany about six years ago. For one-and-a-half years and in 48 cases, the prosecutor believes, the accused have worked with falsely self-employed cleaning men and women in order to avoid minimum wages and social insurance contributions. Estimated damage for the employees and social insurance: 1.4 million euros. According to the prosecutor in Mainz most of the respective staff has been hired in eastern Europe and transported to Germany.

Another offender who used to operate up to 120 washrooms in Germany allegedly evaded six million euros of tax and social contributions, the prosecuting body of Stade suspects. 
Many malls and department stores today rent out their washroom areas to tenants and kill two birds with one stone: they get rid of the ‘dirty work’ and also get money from the operating cleaning companies.

These companies earn nothing but the tips which the visitors of the washrooms leave on the notorious plate - however, some locations are extremely profitable. At one top location the tips per day can easily add up to 100 euros however the staff on site, because they are working as sub-sub-contractors, do not get a fair share.

All these cases prove how important it is to prosecute the exploitation of allegedly self-employed workers, tax fraud and evasion of social insurance contributions – for the sake of fair trade, public welfare and the reputation of the entire business.


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