Berlin’s labor senator Katja Kipping warns against exploitative working conditions for Ukraine refugees. The left-wing politician said on Wednesday at a joint press conference with the Berlin Advice Center for Migration and Good Work (BEMA).

Kipping said: “There are first cases of particularly perfidious exploitation.” However, there are still no representative figures. However, Kipping explained that he wanted to draw attention to the problem at an early stage – before it was too late. “The individual cases that we are already seeing are just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.

Abusive employment relationships were found particularly in the construction industry, in cleaning and in logistics companies, said Philipp Schwertmann. He is head of department at BEMA, which belongs to the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB). Since 2018, 15 employees have been advising foreign employees in particular – 3,500 people last year alone, and recently more and more Ukrainians.

“We’ve noticed that the dubious job advertisements that we already know are now being aimed specifically at Ukrainians,” says Schwertmann. There are cases in which entrepreneurs have asked job seekers to hand in their passports, only then did they get a job. This is how dependencies are created. Other companies refused Ukrainians employment contracts and forced the war refugees into bogus self-employment.

In another case, says Schwertmann, a Latvian company was looking for Ukrainian employees in Germany, but offered Latvian employment contracts. This is a common procedure to circumvent German employee protection regulations and the minimum wage.

The problem is that many of the refugees are not aware of their rights – and in their distress they also enter into abusive employment relationships. “People are often traumatized, don’t know the system and are under great pressure to earn money,” says Schwertmann.

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So far, one has observed mainly isolated cases, but the system behind it is already recognizable – and not new. “There are many committed employers who want to help, but there are always others who take advantage of people’s needs. We must therefore be vigilant.”

The BEMA currently sees its task above all in preventing such exploitation from happening at all. Information material in Ukrainian is used to educate people about their rights and obligations, about the recognition of degrees and documents. “There is a lot of uncertainty,” says Schwertmann.

Labor Senator Kipping promised that one was in the last few meters of expanding BEMA’s advisory services. Among other things, employees should also be active in the accommodations in order to inform job seekers there. Kipping again campaigned for people from Ukraine to register upon arrival in Berlin. Registration not only entitles you to social benefits and health insurance, but also an official right to work.


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