German teachers rally against low pay

German language teachers demonstrated in Berlin on Wednesday, complaining that their work in integrating foreigners into German society is not given the financial recognition it deserves.

German teachers rally against low pay
Photo: DPA

The demonstration, organised by the Community College Federation (DVV) protested against what it say are wages so low that they amount to less than half of what qualified and fully employed state school teachers earn.

The teachers also complain their pensions are not enough to keep them out of poverty in old age.

The DVV is calling for the government to set aside an extra €180 million per year to tackle the problem.

“Despite the fact that we are highly qualified, we only earn €1,200 per month,” said Brigitte Rilke, a teacher at the state-funded Volkshochschule (VHS) and one of the event’s organizers, to The Local.

“And from this salary, we have to pay social contributions as well as health insurance.”

Rilke said that despite years working as a German teacher, she still could not afford a car and could only pay a low rent.

Teaching German for “integration courses” has existed for a decade as a standardized profession. There are roughly 22,000 teachers across the country who provide courses in government-financed institutions, such as the VHS, to migrants starting their lives in Germany.

“I love my job. I also have the qualifications to work in a high school and earn up to €4,000 per month, but that’s not what I want.

“But as things are, I am going to have to keep working as long as I am fit enough to stand at a table,” said Rilke.

The pension for German teachers is limited to €600 per month and that is only for those who have worked a full 39 years. Those who have not worked so long must make do with less.

The demonstration was planned to coincide with a meeting of the federal government with heads of the German states to haggle over the costs of integrating refugees into German society.

While the states and the federal government barter over the amount of money that will be attributed to housing and other issues, it is unclear whether increased salaries for the people who teach them will be on the table.

But the teachers also seem to have limited options at their disposal.

“Part of the problem is that we are freelance contractors. This means that it is difficult to strike. We wouldn’t get paid for a start. And many teachers fear that they wouldn’t be offered work afterwards,” Rilke said.

‘It’s never come up’

One current student at the Berlin VHS told The Local that among her classmates there is little awareness of the financial situation of their teachers.

“We [the students] take coffee breaks together every class and it has never really come up,” said Barbara Woolsey, a journalist from Canada who is taking night classes twice a week, to The Local. 

“If I knew that teachers were leaving the profession because of bad pay, I think that would be a real shame,” she said.

“Teachers are such an important part of society. Especially as an expat, I know how much doing German classes have benefited me.”

Woolsey was full of praise for the VHS, commending it for the low cost of classes and the leg up it has given her in her career.

“Speaking German is so important. It’s really hard to get a job if you don’t have the language skills,” she pointed out.

Germany has had to cope with record numbers of immigration in recent years. Last year saw over half a million people move to the Bundesrepublik, the highest number since records began in 1967.

Many of these immigrants arrive in Germany with little or no German language skills, a necessity for most forms of work.

The Federal Ministry for Migration and Refugees was not available for comment.

With AFP

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OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.


Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

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