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Monday, April 04, 2005

Germany's minimal wages idea targets UK


By Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Filed: 04/04/2005)

A website that gets unemployed Germans bidding against each other to work for the lowest wages is set to spark fresh controversy with plans for an August launch in Britain.

Trade unions have accused jobdumping.de of promoting "slave labour" with reverse auctions that see workers compete against each other in a downward bidding spiral for odd tasks and short-term contracts.

German unemployment has reached 5.2m, the highest since the Great Depression. However, jobdumping.de founder Fabian Loew believes his model will work even better in a low unemployment country such as Britain.

"After Thatcher and Blair, the British are open to new ideas and have a much more flexible attitude to work," he said. "So I think it could be a big success over there."

Jobdumping.de invites employers with openings for waiters or construction yard workers to offer a maximum fee and wait for a crush of eager workers to knock down the price.

It's a nightmare come true for defenders of Europe's cosseted social model, already consumed by angst over a "race to the bottom" with low-wage economies in eastern Europe and Asia.

The lowest bid has been €3.16 an hour (£2.17) for a three-hour job cleaning out a basement, although the worker made an extra €50 reselling old furniture he took away. The highest wage has been €1,600 for a six-week job as a doctor's receptionist.

The Hans Böckler Stiftung, the trade union institute, warns that the scheme violates a raft of labour conventions regulating pay. It claims that the minimum rate allowable in Berlin is €6.93 in hotels and cafes, and €6.05 for other forms of temporary work. Germany has no statutory minimum wage.

Mr Loew said that his jobdumping.de had created 1,300 jobs since its launch in November and was now receiving 30,000 visits a day. His fee starts at 3.9pc, tapering down to 0.8pc.

Mr Loew, 31, said his purpose is to shake Germany out of lethargy. "Our streets are packed with people looking for work," he said. "It's time we changed our whole attitude to wages instead of just whingeing about everything.''

Most of the job auctions on jobdumping.de involve people offering to work at a minimum price. Last weekend's mix included a "reliable baby-sitter" in Berlin for €4 an hour; a chauffeur for €8, a German language teacher for €10; a "dog therapist" for €10; a financial adviser for €16 and a machine repair-man in Wolfsburg for €28. "Female models" run at around €50 an hour, though the work is unspecified.

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