Berlin Daimler– HR Director Wilfried Porth didn’t gloss over anything: “Obviously something is breaking away at the moment that no one knows if it can be caught up,” the manager said last week. The carmaker had to accept a drop in profits of almost 80 percent in the first quarter, sales of the core brand Mercedes decreased by 15 percent. “The fact that we will need to adjust is obvious,” said Porth. He didn’t say the word job cuts. But even before Corona, Daimler had decided to cut up to 15,000 jobs.
The fear of jobs is back in Germany and the virus pandemic will leave deep marks on the job market. Every second company is already doing short-time work. According to a survey by the Ifo Institute, almost a fifth of the companies want to lay off employees or not to extend temporary jobs.
“The fear of jobs seeps in,” says Ifo economist Klaus Wohlrabe. The job cuts plans are apparently based on the concern of many companies that the restrictions on public life in the corona crisis will not end in May.
On average, the companies surveyed expected four months of partial standstill. 84 percent feel a drop in sales due to the corona crisis, only four percent register a growing business. According to the Federal Employment Agency (BA), almost every third of the 2.2 million companies with at least one employee who is subject to social security contributions have registered short-time work.
Previous employment forecasts are becoming more and more waste every day that the corona crisis continues. “For the labor market, we expect unemployment to rise sharply over the next few months. But many companies keep their people, you can see that from short-time work, ”says Enzo Weber from the Institute for Labor Market and Vocational Research (IAB).
BA boss Detlef Scheele expected a rise in unemployment by 150,000 to 200,000 people in April a month ago. The Nuremberg authorities will present the current data next Thursday.
Domestic demand collapses
There is hardly any improvement in sight if you look at the economic development: the purchasing manager index of IHS Markit has plummeted. In the survey, 75 percent of service providers and almost as many industrial managers said that their sales had shrunk significantly. Service providers’ sales fell more than ever in the 20-year history of this survey. “Both domestic and export demand has collapsed,” writes IHS Markit economist Phil Smith.
“Demand levels will not return to pre-crisis levels anytime soon,” says Sascha Haghani, head of the global restructuring practice at management consultancy Roland Berger. That’s about it GfKConsumer barometer, which measures consumer mood, plummeted to a record low.
“Sooner or later the companies will have to adjust their costs accordingly,” Haghani expects. Probably also through job cuts: According to the IHS, more jobs were cut in the service sector than at the height of the financial crisis recession in April 2009, and the reduction in personnel is also accelerating in industry.
The Ifo survey also shows how wide the shock waves are spreading in the economy: in industry and service providers, almost every fifth company wants to lay off employees or not to extend temporary jobs. It is 15 percent in retail, and two percent on construction that has so far been little affected by downtime. Leading economists such as the head of business practices, Lars Feld, are starting to adjust their forecasts for 2020 downwards.
After Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Prime Ministers decided a slow restart of the economy last week, he expects gross domestic product (GDP) to shrink by at least 5.5 percentage points in 2020. Even in the economic institutes, which predicted a minus of 4.2 percent for 2020 in their joint forecast two weeks ago, it is now expected that a five will be before the decimal point.
The IAB had anticipated a 4.7 percent decline in GDP in March, when the economy largely stands still for two and a half months and only normalizes by the end of the year. In this case, the number of unemployed could temporarily rise from the current 2.3 million to more than three million, the Nuremberg researchers predicted at the time.
A well-known restructuring expert expects Corona to increase unemployment to as many as four million people. Especially badly hit sectors such as tourism and gastronomy are affected, but also important branches of industry such as the automotive suppliers.
The government is obviously also assuming a long period of weakness on the labor market. For example, for all unemployed people who would slide into Hartz IV between May and December, the duration of the unemployment benefit will be extended by three months. “Those who are just becoming unemployed or who have recently become unemployed currently have little chance of finding a job again,” said Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD).
In order to counter the allegations made by the unions, in particular, that politicians are more concerned with companies than with employees, the coalition committee also decided on Thursday night to increase the short-time work allowance – staggered according to the duration of benefits.
It is currently 60 percent of net income and 67 percent for employees with children. From the fourth month in Corona short-time work, employees whose working hours are reduced by at least half are now to receive 70 or 77 percent. From the seventh month, the rates increase to 80 to 87 percent.
In addition, short-time workers who take up another job can earn up to the amount of their previous monthly income. So far, this was only true for “systemically relevant” activities such as care or agriculture.
The gradual increase in short-time work benefits has met with criticism: “I would have preferred a faster increase, especially for low-wage earners,” said Sebastian Dullien, head of the Institute for Macroeconomics and Business Cycle Research (IMK). In a survey, 40 percent of employees who were on short-time work said that they would get by with the money for a maximum of three months.
Employers see “contribution club”
The decision met with a mixed response among the unions, which had hoped for a general increase to 80 or 87 percent from the start. “This protects many employees from existential hardships,” praised IG Metall boss Jörg Hofmann. On the other hand, the chairman of the Food, Beverage and Catering trade union (NGG), Guido Zeitler, declared that the increase was correct, but was too small and too late.
In the hospitality industry, employees could probably only expect 80 percent of normal net wages in October 2020. According to the NGG calculations, according to the new plans, a cook in Berlin will have around 1,070 euros instead of around 920 euros and short-time work from around 1,220 euros from the seventh month. “For hundreds of thousands of people with low incomes, the only thing left to do is to apply for Hartz IV,” said Zeitler.
IAB labor market expert Weber also criticizes the fact that the planned changes will not benefit employees in the low-wage industries in a very targeted manner. “In the end, industrial sectors that have long been in recession could benefit in particular.”
For Holger Schäfer from the employers’ institute of the German economy (IW), it is not at all clear which problem the government wants to solve with the compromise: “In the end, a lot of money is spent on a purpose that is not clearly defined.” According to Schäfer’s calculations, the BA would need 24 billion euros to send 4.5 million full-time average earners without children on short-time work for three months. The employment agency’s reserve is just under 26 billion euros.
The criticism from business was correspondingly harsh. Employer President Ingo Kramer praised coalition decisions such as help for restaurants and the easier return of losses for companies. But they would be overlaid by “spending money with a watering can”.
The employers’ association Gesamtmetall criticized that the decisions on short-time work were expensive and caused an enormous additional administrative effort at the BA: “There is great concern that when the economy restarts, the tax and contribution club will fall on the employees and companies,” said CEO Oliver Zander the Handelsblatt. BA boss Scheele said that he would have liked a “simpler regulation”.
Monika Schnitzer, a new member of the Council of Experts, told Handelsblatt that she could understand that the government wanted to expand short-time work benefits. “But I think the chosen way of increasing is problematic.” After all, many employers voluntarily increased to keep their employees. I am afraid that it will have a high share of deadweight effects. ”
Ifo President Clemens Fuest believes the decisions will stabilize consumer demand. They are therefore also “a suitable economic policy measure”. The same applies to the extension of the period of unemployment benefit
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