Germany faced severe labor shortages in a range of sectors. This is hardly new. More recently, however, German airports have also been affected. After two years of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people in Germany are now eager to go on vacation. Yet once arriving at airports, vacationers too often face long queues, delayed or even canceled flights, all because of a lack of staff.
Faced with this tense situation, German airports are considering recruiting Turkish workers to help them. It is planned to temporarily hire some 2,000 people, mainly for baggage handling. None of these foreigners, however, would be allowed to help screen passengers as they pass through security checks. And this is the sector in which personnel have been particularly difficult to find.
It’s time to cut the red tape
German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser said on Wednesday that the government would support the aviation industry in these difficult times.
“We are providing short-term relief, allowing companies to use foreign workers, mainly from Turkey,” she told a news conference. “We will quickly issue residence and work permits.”
At the same time, Faeser said, foreign workers must pass the same demanding background checks as everyone else.
German Labor Minister Heil, Transport Minister Wissing and Interior Minister Faeser (pictured from left to right)
This was confirmed by the German Aviation Association (BDL), which told DW that the German authorities should speed up checks on potential personnel from non-EU countries so that they can be employees when needed this summer. BDL spokeswoman Julia Fohmann told DW that screenings should be completed in two to four weeks, rather than “two to three months” as is the norm.
Germany has yet to reach out
Turkish unions and ground handling companies in Istanbul and Ankara have not yet been approached by German authorities about a possible recruitment drive, says Emre Eser, DW’s Turkey-based correspondent. TAV Airports Holding, a Turkish airport operator, and Turkish Airlines have neither. The German embassy in Ankara told DW it was not part of the recruitment program.
Mustafa Kocabayraktar, founder of the Turkey-based travel agency Bonnair Tours, which helps organize work visas, says many people ask about working in Germany. But he says he has little information about the planned hiring drive.
Turkey cannot afford to lose airport staff
In any case, the workers so sought after by Germany are also desperately needed at Turkish airports – especially, as German Interior Minister Faeser said, those with knowledge and “experience of the aviation and ground handling at Turkish airports”.
DW’s Turkish correspondent Eser said Turkey could not afford to lose airport staff, especially during the tourist season. Highly qualified German or English speaking personnel are currently in high demand at Turkish airports.
Istanbul Airport is a major aviation hub
Tourism is an essential pillar of the Turkish economy. As such, expectations are rising after two years of the coronavirus pandemic, Eser says. He says Turkey would face serious challenges if skilled workers were to leave for Germany.
Extensive media coverage
In any case, Germany’s idea of hiring Turkish workers has garnered wide media coverage in Turkey. Many publications have made headlines announcing that Germany is about to hire Turkish laborers and plans to pay generously. Some reports claimed workers would receive €4,000 ($4,170) per month, while others said up to €6,000 ($6,250) could be expected.
These early reports left many Turks delighted, says Emre Eser. “A lot of workers thought they could move to Germany and stay there, live there permanently, or for a long time at least.”
But as time passed, and more details of the recruiting campaign became clear, that euphoria wore off. Germany only wants to hire Turkish workers on a short-term basis. In fact, the German Airports Association (ADV) wants to employ Turkish workers for up to three months.
The story repeats itself ?
The current situation reminds many of the German-Turkish recruitment agreement of 1961. Then, as now, Germany was keen to alleviate severe labor shortages by temporarily hiring Turkish workers.
The deal saw dozens of Turkish workers and their families move to Germany, where they made a big contribution to the country’s post-war boom.
Many Turkish media covering the latest recruitment drive have drawn parallels with the landmark deal.
So can we expect Germany’s new recruiting drive to expand into other sectors as well? The official answer is no. At a joint press conference, German Transport Minister Volker Wissing, Labor Minister Hubertus Heil and Interior Minister Faeser stressed that the hiring drive would remain only a temporary measure. Heil said it would not cause “permanent immigration to Germany”.
Similarities and differences
Yunus Ulusoy, a researcher at the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research in Essen, says it is not useful to compare the 1961 agreement and today’s recruitment campaign. This is because the circumstances are very different.
“At the time, Germany needed skilled workers but was unable to invite them [into the country], therefore bilateral agreements have been concluded; today, Germany has a legal framework to attract skilled workers from all over the world,” says Ulusoy.
In 2021, German President Steinmeier spoke to workers on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the German-Turkish recruitment agreement.
And yet, Ulusoy sees some similarities between yesterday and today. In the 1960s, “Turkey was seen as a stopgap solution: it would send thousands of workers to Germany for a limited time. It was not intended that they would be reunited with their families,” says Ulusoy. “But the workers proved themselves and the German employers didn’t want to let them go.”
In light of the latest labor shortages, Germany’s aviation industry hopes authorities will soon ease restrictions on foreign workers wishing to come to the country. “For years we – together with German business – have been calling for labor migration rules to be simplified in Germany,” BDL spokeswoman Fohmann told DW.
Then, as now, the German recruiting campaigns nourished the hopes of many Turks. After all, Turkey finds itself mired in an economic crisis and facing rampant inflation.
This article was originally written in German.