Germany’s Minister of Labour and Social Affairs, Andrea Nahles, spoke to participants of the annual JustJobs Network conference “Squaring Higher Wages with Competitiveness” in Ankara, Turkey. Below is the full transcript of her speech.
Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s one of the responsibilities of the German Labour Minister to announce the job market figures once a month.
But telling the media how many new jobs have been created and how many people have made it out of unemployment is also one of my favourite responsibilities at the moment. That’s because month for month the news is good.
In fact, the situation is so good that my staff members and I are finding it increasingly difficult to come up with new metaphors for the “good job market environment”.
As Labour Minister, I of course don’t want to see the creation of just any jobs.
I also want to see quality jobs, or just jobs, as you call them.
Which gets us to the name and the mission of the network, which met here in Ankara yesterday, and which many of you belong to.
Creating just jobs for everyone is an important benchmark for my work as Labour Minister.
That’s because I firmly believe that just jobs give people dignity and self-esteem. All human beings deserve just jobs –a job that is appreciated – also in financial terms.
And there are also economic arguments for such jobs: Just jobs can make a country an attractive place to do business and they can boost competitiveness.
Let me illustrate this point with an example from Germany: In our system of industrial relations, we have what we call “co-determination”. What we mean by co-determination is workers’ right to participate in the decision-making of their companies.
This form of democracy at the workplace is an essential component of a just job.
Studies prove that companies with worker participation, or “co-determined” companies, are more innovative, more productive and more profitable.
So there is both a moral and an economic case for just jobs.
But what is a quality job or a just job like?
Well, let’s look at the definition of the Just Jobs Network:
“Just jobs provide people with appropriate compensation, healthcare, pensions, labor rights and opportunities for economic mobility.”
I couldn’t agree more.
The definition shows that just jobs have many features.
And that it’s not enough to only sweep in in front of our own doors.
In our globalised world, we need to broaden our perspective and act together with others to make just jobs a reality everywhere and for everyone: at the national, the regional – in Germany’s case that means European – and at the global level.
Let me start with the global level, which is the one that has brought me here today.
Today, I am attending the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial meeting.
And globally we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to just jobs.
The Global Just Jobs Index Map, which your network releases at regular intervals, proves this point:
On your map, the world’s countries are assigned colours depending on their track records – countries with relatively good working conditions are pictured in green, countries with poor working conditions appear in red.
On this map, which should be all green, there are still too many red countries.
That’s why I’m working for just jobs – also at the G20 level.
And in fact I’m quite optimistic in light of the ambitious agenda and the efforts of the Turkish Presidency.
Tomorrow, we intend to adopt a declaration designed to advance just jobs around the world. And here are our goals:
In preparation for the G20 meeting, we also had a look at how labour market and employment policies can help boost economic growth.
This drew our attention to a number of interesting links, which you also discussed in depth during yesterday’s conference.
Among them was the fact that a very unequal income distribution within a society has a negative impact on growth – a fact borne out repeatedly by empirical evidence.
In a joint report, the OECD, the ILO and the World Bank have for example concluded that growing income inequality in OECD countries meant that between 1985 and 2005 actual economic growth was 4.7 percentage points lower than potential growth.
That’s why the G20 have drawn up policy recommendations aimed at reducing income inequality and at increasing the labour share.
This includes things like wage-setting mechanisms and minimum wages.
Of course, in the G20 context, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for combating income inequality. But I’m very pleased that the momentum generated by the academic discourse is now being used to talk about the positive growth effects of an activating, protecting and redistributing welfare state.
We will also talk about this during a joint meeting with the finance ministers – people we labour ministers usually argue with.
Taking on responsibility for people in and from other countries is also something that I would like to see in our policies for asylum seekers and refugees.
Maybe some of you are aware that at the moment this is the subject of a fierce debate in Germany.
One reason for the debate is that more and more people are coming to our country, far more than ever before.
We estimate that this year there will be up to 800,000 asylum seekers. That’s double the number we predicted as recently as this spring. And that’s four times the number of people who ended up coming to our country last year.
That’s certainly a major challenge. But as one of the world’s richest countries, with a good infrastructure, a viable welfare state and a solid budget surplus, we are in a position to rise to the occasion.
And here again just jobs come in.
That’s because work is the key to integration and participation in society.
Just recently, I witnessed this when visiting one of Berlin’s hospitals.
This hospital offers a programme targeted at refugees helping them to do an apprenticeship to become professional caregivers.
I met wonderful, motivated young people from many different countries who were dedicated to their work and very glad about the opportunity offered to them. Let me put it in the words of a young man I met there: “Being a refugee is not a job.”
That’s why I’m working on making it easier for refugees and asylum seekers to enter the labour market.
To this end, we have already revised a couple of laws. We have for example made it possible for asylum seekers to start making a living for themselves earlier than in the past. (They can now do so after three instead of nine or twelve months.)
Other reforms are in the pipeline, especially for people doing apprenticeships.
In addition, we still need to improve programmes (for example counselling, qualification, placement and German courses), which help asylum seekers, and refugees join the labour market.
I am convinced that the large amount of migration that we currently witness in Germany – even if it is “unplanned” migration – is a great opportunity for us. Asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants come with a strong will to make it in Germany and to do something worthwhile.
If we manage to create employment perspectives for them, they can be an important asset for our economy, our welfare state and society as a whole.
This is even more important when considering the backdrop of our looming lack of skilled labour.
Labour demand is currently at a record level.
The OECD has praised Germany for being one of the OECD countries with the lowest barriers to immigration for high-skilled workers.
However, our long-term labour migration is still relatively low in comparison with other countries.
Therefore, we should at first integrate those migrants that are already coming to Germany to build a new life here.
But even beyond that, we must step up our efforts to offer channeled access to our labour market.
Among other things, we need a modern immigration act.
Let me finally say a few words about one of the most important aspects of just jobs, which is pay.
During the last few years Germany went through a process that you also discussed at your conference yesterday.
For many years, our wages stagnated and in real terms they even went down.
Since the 90s, our low-wage sector has also become one of the EU’s largest.
There were several reasons for the negative trend in German wages.
In our system of industrial relations, one factor was especially crucial: fewer and fewer workers were earning a collectively agreed wage.
Globalization, competition from “cheaper” workers and service providers from the Central and Eastern European EU states and the labour market reforms undertaken in the last decade also contributed to this trend.
After major public and political debates and a trade union campaign that lasted several years, in 2014 we finally drafted, negotiated and adopted the Minimum Wage Act.
So since January 1st 2015, a general, statutory minimum wage of 8.50 Euros has been in effect in Germany for the first time.
Although we had more than 80% of the public behind us, there were fervent critics in parts of the business community and among politicians.
They warned us that the minimum wage would kill jobs and slow down the economy, and that it would be a “bureaucratic monster”.
In the meantime, things have calmed down.
Roughly eight months after the introduction of the minimum wage, the horror stories have not become a reality.
The minimum wage is a success story.
It has led to higher wages, more people in work and to more justice:
The minimum wage was long overdue in Germany and has proven its worth in practice.
But let me also stress that a minimum wage is far from being a good wage.
It’s true that it creates an extremely important floor avoiding an unfettered undercutting race to the bottom as a result of exploitative business models.
But of course the minimum wage is not enough.
More is needed in the fight for good and adequate wages, and here I’m thinking first and foremost of strong social partners and high collective bargaining coverage.
That’s why we adopted the minimum wage along with other measures to strengthen the social partners and our precious “autonomy in collective bargaining”, which gives unions and employers the right to negotiate wages without any government interference.
And we also want to reduce work arrangements like agency and contract work, which are sometimes being abused with a view to depressing wages and decreasing the number of just jobs.
To this end, we are currently drafting legislation that we intend to present before the end of the year.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As you can see, I share your definition of what constitutes a just job.
And I’m doing my part to make just jobs a reality for all people in Germany, Europe, and around the world.
Before we move on to the discussion phase, I would like to thank the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation very much indeed for making this event possible and for making important contributions to the Just Jobs Network.
But now I’m looking forward to our discussion and to your inputs.