Public Employment Services: The German Case

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Employment and Labour

14 February 2012
Chairperson: Mr M Nchabeleng (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee would visit Germany in 2012 to study its Public Employment Services which was a split system working with private agencies as well.

The German Ambassador to South Africa commented on the strength of the relationship between Germany and South Africa and said Germany was dedicated to fostering stability in the region. He explained the various challenges that had confronted Germany when it was undergoing changes to its framework, such as adaptability to unexpected changes and dire economic circumstances.

The Counsellor for Labour and Social Affairs at the German Embassy made a presentation on Public Employment Services (PES) in Germany. She gave an overview of its history, structure, and functions, and also explained the linkages between unemployment grants which were denied if jobseekers did not actively seek employment or attend training programmes. In terms of youth unemployment, she stressed that education and training were critical. The state monitored the private employment brokers in order to ensure laws were obeyed, such as minimum wage, giving notice, taxes, equal pay, and quotes for the disabled. Regulation in this case was not micromanagement, however. In Germany, they did not want companies to release people in bad economic times since it was very difficult to reintegrate them back into the market afterwards. Germany decided that such workers would rather get less pay and fewer working hours but it would use tax money to re-educate them in the meantime. That was one of their automatic stabilisers. There was a dual vocational training system in place, where cooperation between unions, employers and government was needed. People went through school, and then had an apprenticeship in a company with a meister, or mentor. This bottom-up approach worked very well but took time and respect. It was attempted in South Africa but it failed initially. Temporary work with labour brokers was allowed Germany, there was a law that allowed this kind of contract work, but limited it to a maximum amount of time that was allowed. The worker had to be employed in the company if there was a need to fill the post permanently.

The discussion raised many questions about the extent of self-regulation within the Federal Employment Service; whether the training and counselling functions were feasible; how Germany dealt with the integration of East Germany; how the Federal Employment Service would deal with the large numbers of uneducated and unskilled workers in South Africa; what was the causal nexus between the Federal Employment Service system of matching skills to jobs and the decrease in unemployment in Germany even during the recession; and if private employment agencies were more successful in certain sectors than the public agency.

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