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March 1997

A bit on the side: The ins and outs of working on a DM 610 basis

A look at the rights and earnings of lower paid jobs.

While debate rages in Germany about cutting taxes for the country's top earners, another fierce argument concerns those at the bottom of the income pile. The question is: should the current system continue to allow people to work for up to DM 610 per month without paying social insurance contributions? Yes, say representatives of German industry and the Federal Democrats: without these low-paid jobs, many businesses would close. No, say women's groups, trade unions and the Social Democrats: this rule forces women into low-paid work in which they build up no entitlement to a retirement pension. The facts: between 2.5 million and 6 million people in Germany work regularly on the "DM-610-Basis." Around 70 percent are women, and most are employed in restaurants, private households, the retail sector, public services, and as cleaners. Up to 50,000 are employed by cleaning firms in Munich alone. For a job to be free of social insurance payments, one of two conditions has to be met. Either you work less than 15 hours per week and earn, on average, no more than DM 610 per month (geringfügig beschäftigt); or you work no more than 50 days within a 12-month period, regardless of how much you earn (kurzzeitig beschäftigt). Students are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during the semester and for an unlimited number of hours between semesters, regardless of earnings. If you have more than one job, the hours and earnings are normally added together; if the above limits are exceeded, social-insurance contributions are due on all the jobs. There is an exception: if you already have one main job (Hauptberuf) for which you pay social insurance, you are allowed one job on the DM 610 basis, as long as the income from it does not exceed one-sixth of your total income. The important point to remember is that because you pay no social insurance, you have no health insurance (Krankenversicherung) or nursing care insurance (Pflegeversicherung) of your own (you may be covered via your partner); no unemployment insurance (Arbeitslosenversicherung); and you are not paying towards your retirement pension (Rentenversicherung). You are, however, covered by the state accident insurance plan (Unfallversicherung) in the event of an accident at work or en route to and from your place of work. A common belief is that DM 610 jobs are tax-free. This is not true. However, it is possible to carry out such a job without a tax card (Lohnsteuerkarte) if the employer agrees to pay the income tax - 20 or 25 percent, plus church tax where appropriate, and the solidarity tax. Make sure you have this in writing before you start. If you have to pay the income tax yourself, make sure that it is entered on your tax card. Another myth is that people working on the DM 610 basis have no employee rights. In principle, they have the same rights as full-time employees. Jobs performed on this basis should have proper employment contracts (Arbeitsverträge) like any other, specifying hours of work and the pay rate. People working on this basis are entitled to paid holidays proportional to the hours they work each week; they have the right to be paid on national holidays if they would normally have worked; and they are entitled to sick pay from their employers for the first six weeks of illness. (After six weeks they receive nothing as this is covered by the health insurance funds). There is also entitlement to the 13th month's salary (Christmas bonus, or Weihnachtsgeld) and holiday pay (Urlaubsgeld) if other employees receive this; wage supplements for working on Sundays, public holidays or nights; and the same protection against dismissals as other employees. Pregnant women also have the usual employment rights, but, because they have no health insurance, their maternity pay consists of just a one-time fixed payment of DM 400. In the event of a dispute or problem, employees should contact their worker's council (Betriebsrat) or trade union (Gewerkschaft). For more information, consult the booklet Gering? Fügig? Beschäftigt? produced by the women's equal opportunities office (Gleichstellungstelle für Frauen) of Munich's city council (tel. 233 92 464).

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