Section 7. Worker Rights
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
In January 2015 the country’s first statutory countrywide minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($9.35) per hour (before tax) entered into effect. The law exempts young persons under 18 and the long-term unemployed during their first six months in a new job. The remaining four sectors with existing collective agreements that include minimum wages below the statutory minimum wage level have until January 2017 to transition. Sectors that set their own minimum wages include electrical trades, painting, scaffolding, roofing, waste management, large-scale laundries, cleaning services, nursing care, hairdressing, meat processing, special mining services, and temporary employment agencies. Sector-wide minimum wages, which were generally lower in the eastern parts of the country than in the west, ranged from 7.90 euros ($8.69) per hour in agriculture and forestry (in the East) to 15.73 euros ($17.30) per hour in the money processing and valuables transportation industries in the western state of NRW. The national statutory minimum wage of 8.50 euros ($9.35) per hour is 48 percent of the median hourly wage for full-time employees in the country, putting it below the internationally defined “low-wage” level of two-thirds of the national median wage. According to the EU Statistical Office, in 2015 persons living in a single household in the country with an income of less than 12,396 euros ($13,636) per year (60 percent of the national median income) were at risk of poverty. More than 13 million persons (16.7 percent of the population) fell below this threshold.
Federal regulations set the standard workday at eight hours, with a maximum of 10 hours, and limit the average workweek to 48 hours. Collective bargaining agreements, which directly or indirectly affect 79 percent of the working population, regulate the number of weekly working hours and the average maximum workweek under current agreements is 37.7 hours. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the average workweek of full-time employees was 41.5 hours in 2015. The law requires a break after no more than six hours of work, stipulates regular breaks totaling at least 30 minutes, and sets a minimum of 24 days of paid annual leave in addition to official holidays. Provisions for overtime, holiday, and weekend pay varied, depending upon the applicable collective bargaining agreement. Such agreements or individual contracts prohibited excessive compulsory overtime and protected workers against arbitrary employer requests.
The Customs Office’s Financial Control Illicit Work Unit (FKS) is responsible for monitoring compliance with the statutory and sector-wide minimum wages and hours of work. The FKS conducted checks on 43,000 companies and 360,000 individuals in 2015 and completed 104,000 criminal proceedings. Employees may sue companies if employers fail to comply with the Minimum Wage Act. Courts may sentence employers who violate the provisions to pay a fine of up to 500,000 euros ($550,000).
An extensive set of laws and regulations govern occupational safety and health. A comprehensive system of worker insurance carriers enforced safety requirements in the workplace. Workers may remove themselves from situations that endanger their health or safety without jeopardizing their employment, and authorities effectively protected employees in this situation.
The Federal Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and its counterparts in the states effectively monitored and enforced occupational safety and health standards through a network of government bodies, including the Federal Agency for Occupational Safety and Health. At the local level, professional and trade associations–self-governing public corporations with delegates representing both employers and unions–as well as work councils oversaw worker safety.
The number of inspectors declined in recent years, but there were enough to ensure compliance. In 2014, 2,538 inspectors visited approximately 286,000 companies to examine working conditions and compliance with occupational safety and health regulations. In 2014 there were 409,702 complaints. Employees may sue employers who do not comply with occupational safety and health regulations. In cases in which the employer culpably infringed the duty to have regard for the welfare of its employees, a court may sentence the company to pay compensation to the affected employees and a fine of up to 25,000 euros ($27,500). In severe cases offenders the law provides for prison sentences of up to one year. These penalties were adequate.
During 2015 the number of reported work accidents decreased to approximately 866,000 incidents despite growing employment numbers. There were fewer than 22 accidents in the workplace for every 1,000 full-time workers–the lowest level since reunification of the country. Most accidents occurred in the construction, wood and metalworking, and transportation industries. The number of workplace fatalities also decreased to 470.