How are the police paid

A lot of effort, little wages : Systemically important professions are so poorly paid

Berlin - Suddenly they are being celebrated and applauded at open windows in the evening: the "systemically relevant professional groups". They include doctors, nurses, nurses, police officers, firefighters, teachers, educators, but also supermarket sellers, shelf fillers, truck drivers and cleaning staff. While everyone else is supposed to isolate themselves in the home office, they do their job, risking their health every day - in order to keep a system running during a crisis that often treats them particularly badly.

Corona raises the question more urgently than seldom: Why do those of all people who are celebrated as heroes work so often with measly pay under poor conditions? And will politics and society now be ready to change course?

After 27 years of service as a police officer, gross salary of 2956 euros

Not all systemically important professions are badly paid in the same way. The range is wide and the tariff landscape is complex. However, many of those who are systemically relevant can only dream of salaries like those in industry or administration. They often go home with less than 2000 euros net a month.

For example, a fire chief at the Berlin fire brigade receives 2336 euros per month after completing his training - gross. Berlin police officers also enter after their training in the middle service with 2336 euros. After 27 years of service they will receive 2956 euros as the final stage. Nurses in old people's homes and nurses receive 3311 euros after 16 years in the job without additional qualifications - assuming that they are paid according to the tariff at all.

"If you want to increase profits, you have to reduce wages"

That is one of the biggest problems for many systemically relevant people: Their employers have been fleeing the collective bargaining agreement for decades and are thus avoiding generally binding salaries. This also applies to the state of Berlin and the churches.

The renowned social scientist and labor market expert Stefan Sell explains the reason for the system error in comparison to industry: In a car factory, personnel costs accounted for less than 20 percent, in industries with "personal services" such as retirement homes, they are up to 80 percent. "If you want to increase your profits in such industries, you have to cut wages," says Sell.

Employers have been creative for a long time. The Charité, for example, has outsourced all non-patient services to “Charité Facility Management GmbH”. More than 3000 employees who do cleaning, pick-up and delivery services, deliver food or work in IT are not paid according to the tariff. "You have purposefully split up your own company - with the aim of committing collective bargaining," says Meike Jäger from Verdi.

It looks even worse in retail, where, according to Verdi, only a third of the mostly female workforce is covered by collective bargaining agreements. Only the introduction of the minimum wage in 2015 prevented hourly wages from falling to three euros in some cases.

However, the minimum wage will not protect many cashiers from poverty in old age either: the majority of them have to work part-time with very few hours, even though they would like to work more hours. Employers prefer to work with lots of small contracts and flexible staff, explains the union - with dramatic consequences for pensions.

Only a few are organized in trade unions

The degree of organization in trade unions is low in the retail trade, as in the care sector. Other system-relevant parties cannot protest at all: the police and fire brigade are not allowed to stop their work - in the social field, churches and denominational associations also deny their employees the right to strike.

They are exposed to high health risks in the Corona crisis. Salespeople, police officers and teachers cannot avoid close contact with people, but they usually don't wear protective masks in Berlin. “A police officer also performs his duties at the cost of his own health or, in the worst case, his own life,” the press office told the police.

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Trade unions criticize the enormously high risk of infection and the great uncertainty in the workforce, but are not pushing vehemently to equip everyone with protective clothing or to pay dangerous allowances. With the police and kindergarten teachers, who are currently providing emergency care in day-care centers and schools, the arguments are the same: You cannot wear the mask that protects against infection all day because it makes it difficult to breathe. The trade unionists also fear that the protective masks could scare off citizens and especially children and provoke defensive reactions.

"We have to assume," the Berlin police union told this newspaper, "that many colleagues are already carrying the virus unnoticed."

Service is more than your own health

The “intrinsic motivation and identification with the employer” is above average in the systemically relevant professions, says Sell. "They don't want to let their patients and customers down."

In the poorly paid, systemically important occupational groups, the proportion of women and people with a migration background is particularly high. In retail, for example, the proportion of women is 70 percent. Sell ​​also points to the “invisible systemically relevant professions” in the current discussion that have no lobby at all: Eastern Europeans who are currently driving trucks from German entrepreneurs through Europe. Or Eastern European nurses who "actually illegally do 24-hour services in an estimated 300,000 German private households" in Germany.

Can the corona crisis bring about improvements?

Can the increased awareness of the relevance of professions during the Corona crisis bring about a turning point? New York hospitals have been paying nurses up to 100 euros an hour for a few days - also to lure the necessary staff from all over the country to the east coast. In France, the retail trade pays its employees up to 1000 euros extra.

In Germany, Rewe, Kaufland and Co. have announced one-off payments of 100 to 250 euros before Easter. Lidl issues its employees with in-house vouchers. However, the experts agree that a real system change will only be brought about by a return to nationwide collective bargaining agreements.

Politicians are currently expressing full support: Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) called on Wednesday as a reaction to the Corona crisis for uniform collective agreements in care and retail. Heil said in the ARD “Morgenmagazin” that Germany, as a community of solidarity, must draw conclusions. “In the long term” the minimum wage must also continue to rise. But: unions and employers are asked to agree collective agreements.

The only thing is that employers don't think about it during the crisis. On the contrary: The trade association announced on Wednesday that it wanted to postpone the tariff increase agreed in 2019 until the end of the year in order to help employers in need. Large parts of the industry - such as clothing and electronics stores - have had to remain closed for two weeks. This decision is also made by the cashiers in the supermarkets.

Berlin coalition divided over bonus program for "everyday heroes"

Berlin is currently working on a subsidy program for systemically relevant professional groups: The Governing Mayor Michael Müller (SPD) wants to rededicate the planned capital city allowance of 150 euros per month for state employees so that nurses, police officers, cashiers, educators and "other everyday heroes" benefit from it. This was announced by Müller in a government statement last week. The Senate Finance Administration informed the Berliner Zeitung on Wednesday that it was working on implementation.

But the Greens warn the coalition partner against too big promises and think little of bonus payments according to the "watering can principle". Green parliamentary leader Antje Kapek told the Berliner Zeitung on Wednesday: “First calculate, then announce.” In order to actually improve the situation, a clever, plausible way is needed - not the “simplest in populist terms”.

Social scientist Sell fears that little will change for systemically important employees. “I would like it very much,” he says. "But I fear that a tough austerity course will be taken after the crisis, which can hit systemically important professional groups."

There is hope, however, that many professional groups will learn to appreciate their own worth better in the Corona crisis. Hopefully they would organize themselves better in the future and perhaps dare to use the sharpest sword: the threat of giving up their own work for a strike.