Germany is planning to launch a temporary foreign workers scheme to offset acute staff shortages at the country’s airports over the summer months, ministers have said.
The move would allow German airport service providers to recruit several thousand temporary workers from Turkey for several months from July, Bild newspaper reported on Sunday.
The labour minister, Hubertus Heil, said his government was planning to “enable the entry of urgently needed staff from abroad for temporary work in Germany”. “We want to exclude any form of social dumping and exploitation,” the Social Democrat politician added.
Employers would have to pay workers collectively agreed wages and provide them with accommodation, Heil said.
Airports across Europe have been struggling to readjust as demand for international travel bounces back from a two-year pandemic hiatus this summer.
One recent study by the German Economic Institute (IW) found German airports were short of 7,200 ground staff and flight attendants after many workers left their jobs during the pandemic and have since found work in other sectors, for example with rail companies or in online retail.
In spite of Germany’s kurzarbeit or short-time work benefit scheme, designed to allow a speedier bounceback after a downturn, the number of people working in airport services dropped by 15% between 2018-19 and 2020-21.
Citing government circles, Bild said ministers were planning to meet a shortage of 2,000 to 3,000 staff with a “four-figure” number of temporary foreigners. A spokesperson for the labour ministry said on Monday no further details could be announced while talks were ongoing.
A spokesperson for the interior ministry said temporary foreign workers would not be recruited to work in airport security screening, which requires longer training times and higher levels of security clearance, but more low-skilled roles such as baggage handling.
“We will make it possible that temporary workers from abroad can for example be used with baggage handling,” the interior minister, Nancy Faeser, told Bild. Even these roles involved a security clearance that took about two weeks, her spokesperson said on Monday.
Bild used the term gastarbeiter or “guest workers” for the foreign staff the government was trying to recruit, a reference to the migrant labourers from Italy, Greece, Turkey and other countries that were sought to work in Germany’s booming economy from the mid-1950s to early 1970s.
The term is nowadays considered old-fashioned as it seems to reject the possibility of migrant workers settling in and contributing to German society.
Over the weekend, passengers at Düsseldorf and Cologne airports again reported long queues at security gates, while Hamburg airport was struggling to store luggage stranded on its premises. Major European air travel hubs such as Amsterdam Schiphol and London Heathrow have had to cancel hundreds of flights this year as they struggle to manage the flow of passengers and luggage amid staff shortages.
Germany’s Lufthansa is cancelling 2,200 flights in July and August at Frankfurt and Munich airports, and the airline’s chief operating officer, Detlef Kayser, told newspaper Welt that he did not expect current shortages to be filled until 2023.