By Elisa Stella of ELP-Expat: Expatriate Support
Zeitarbeitsfirmen und Zeitarbeit: Temporary Work Agencies and Temp Work
If you’re new in Germany and your German is almost zero, often the best way to get a job with a German company is through a Leihfirma, a temporary work agency. But what exactly are Leihfirmen, and how do they work?
The concept of the Arbeitnehmerüberlassung (the long German word for “temp agency”) and Zeitarbeit (temp work) began in the United States when two lawyers needed to hire staff for a short-term legal project. They founded Manpower Inc. in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1948 and the idea took off, spreading across the USA and even to Europe. Not much later, William Russell Kelly opened his own temp agency in Detroit. Today Manpower Deutschland and Kelly Services are among many temporary work firms operating all across Germany and Europe.
Unlike an employment agency, such as the Bundesagentur für Arbeit, a Leihfirma, or temp agency, offers companies temporary workers (you) to fill in for peak demand periods or special projects. The Leihfirma hires you directly and “lends” you out to a client company. Temp agencies take care of recruiting specialized and non-specialized personnel who can work in other companies for a variable period of time. Temp agencies solve staffing problems for companies by saving them time and money by not having to recruit workers, screen applications, do interviews, decide who to hire, and pay full-time employee benefits. For you, the employee, they solve the problem of finding a job and dealing with a company’s HR department.
Yes, there are advantages and disadvantages for both you and the company using temp workers. As a temp, you may have to change jobs often, and your wages are usually lower than regular employees. On the other hand, you may very likely work for months for the same company. If you find the work satisfying, and the company likes your performance, you may be able to become a full-time employee. Yes, a temp job could lead to a permanent position with higher pay and benefits, but realistically only about 10 percent of temp assignments in Germany lead to permanent jobs. Only about three percent of Germany’s workforce is made up of temporary workers.
There are EU and national laws regulating temporary work agencies and the rights of temp employees. Germany’s Arbeitnehmerüberlassungsgesetz (AÜG, Temporary Employment Act) and Austria’s Arbeitskräfteüberlassungsgesetz (AÜG) implement the EU guidelines for temp work. In Switzerland, a non-EU nation, the AVG (Arbeitsvermittlungsgesetz) regulates temp work. In 2017, Germany reintroduced a time limit on temp work of 18 months. This means that a temp worker employed at a company for 18 months must either be hired full-time by that firm, or be moved to another company by the temp agency. In practice, this means a temp usually won’t work at any one company for longer than 18 months.
There is no out-of-pocket cost for you as a temp employee. No matter where you work, you are paid by the temp agency. For example, suppose your salary is €9.00 an hour (paid by the Leihfirma, your actual employer). The company that requires staff pays a higher amount (maybe €15.00 or €17.00 per hour) to the temp agency. Out of the hourly 15 or 17 euros comes your pay, health insurance and social welfare costs, administrative expenses, and finally the remaining amount as an agency fee. The advantage for the hiring company is the flexibility of leasing personnel rather than hiring new people on a permanent basis. By law, the only sector not allowed to use temp workers in Germany is the construction trade.
For you, as a temp worker, the disadvantages of lower pay (but never less than the legal minimum of 8.84 euro/hour) and frequent location changes are usually outweighed by the advantages of steady pay, paid health insurance, and social welfare benefits. Another big plus is the chance to work closely with German co-workers (Mitarbeiter) over time, which will improve your German language skills much quicker than time spent looking for work. Focus on the positive!
Applying for Zeitarbeit
In larger cities, there will usually be several temp agencies you can apply to. (Berlin, Frankfurt, and Munich each have at least 10.) It is always better to apply to more than one Leihfirma in order to get a contract as soon as possible. If you are from a non-EU/EEA country, you may need a residence permit that allows you to work in Germany.
Although public transport is very good in Europe, owning a car is usually essential for temp work. The temp agency wants to be sure that you can always reach any job, even in the most isolated spots. If you need to get a car, a good used one can get you started.
If you think being a temp worker might work for you, do a web search for the following keywords: “Leihfirma” (or “Zeitarbeit”) + “place/city” and take a look at them. Select two or three. Everything online will be in German, so get help if you need it. Some agencies will allow you to get started online, but eventually you will have to appear in person during business hours. Bring your resumé, but be prepared to fill out a form with all your data. You can then attach your own CV or copy of your certificates (any qualification or educational step) to this form. If you’re lucky and your profile is compatible with the job demands of the temp agency, you will soon get a contract of employment; otherwise, you will have to wait a little bit. In the meantime, keep going around to Leihfirmen and good luck!
Note: “Zeitarbeit” can have a negative connotation for some Germans, especially pro-union Germans, who view it as a virtual form of slavery. They may have a point, but temporary work has a place in the scheme of things, and if it works for you, all the better. Temp work is better than no work.
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