The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, reported recently that the number of full-time jobs in Germany has seen a drastic decline while
part-time positions have been on this rise. Citing a parliamentary inquiry by the socialist Left party, the paper reports that the number of full-time workers had dropped by 1.4 million, or six percent, between 1999 and 2008, while the number of part-time jobs rose by 1.3 million, or 36 percent. The article also points out that more workers are also being forced to work two jobs, citing an increase of 1.8 million dual-job workers between 2002 and 2007. Sabine Zimmermann, an economic expert for the for the party, told the paper that loose government regulations making it easier for businesses to create a part-time based work environment are forcing “millions of people into cheap jobs and poverty.”
While this may be news for many in Germany, a country with great social and worker protections, it’s nothing new for workers in countries like the United States which has seen a massive shift from full-time to part-time employment in recent decades. While the overall global economy may be a bit late to the game on this trend, within the language training industry full-time jobs are now exceedingly rare.
10 years ago it was quite normal for teaching positions, including ESL — teaching English in non-English speaking locales, to be full-time and sometimes even salaried positions. It should be noted that teaching English has never been a high-paying career. But at one time, a teacher could work a reasonable number of hours each week and live a comfortable living in the country in which they were working. Starting in about 2000, many teaching posts began to transition from salaried jobs to freelance positions in which the teacher is classified as a contractor to the school or company in which they teach.
This move from full-time to freelance work has made for major changes in the industry. Primarily it has shifted the cost of doing business from the language school and onto the teacher. It allows employers to avoid paying taxes, pensions, health insurance, and other benefits and expenses required by governments of workers. This of course greatly changes the financial formula for teaching. Originally many schools offered a higher upfront wage to freelancers to cover some of the added expenses incurred over hourly or salaried teachers. My first ESL post was in Poland and it was freelance. At the time I was making 32 Polish Zloty per hour which came with a guarantee of 25 hours per week. So at 3200 zloty (at the time around USD 1500), I was able to live quite well in Poland. Over the years I’ve followed teaching jobs in Poland, and today those same jobs (actually even that SAME job) now pays freelancers the equivalent of around $600 per month, even though the cost of living in Poland is now around three times what it was when I taught there. This does not bode well for teachers.
Germany has by far been the leader in systematically lowering pay among ESL instructors. Strange, as it’s by far the largest ESL market in Europe and equally odd since German students pay more for their English lessons than anyone else, but this is the case. The German government loves to regulate anything and everything — especially anything that has an effect on their citizens. Unfortunately though Germany has shown a bit of a dark side when it comes to language schools. Language schools almost universally hire foreigners. Foreigners are not Germans. And unfortunately for a country which works so hard to protect it’s workers, the German authorities have shown no interest whatsoever in protecting the rights and working conditions of foreign English teachers.
Freelancers, especially non-EU freelancers, pay among the highest income tax rates in all of Germany. They also are responsible for paying mandatory contributions into the German pension system, mandatory social insurance contributions (even though if they lose their jobs, they are not allowed to receive unemployment benefits), and pay for mandatory German health insurance which can easily cost 3-500 euros for a single person. In this mix is an added problem, that being that freelance English teachers are among the lowest paid workers in all of Germany. In Berlin pay for freelance teachers is around €12/ hour. In Nuremberg this rate hovers between €16-22 depending on experience. Munich comes in tops with pay in the 20’s being the norm. Of course, this pay is only based on classroom time. So while a teacher in Berlin would receive €24 for a two-hour class, he would not receive anything for the hour or travel to and from the location of the client, nor any pay for the hour of preparation of materials for that class, nor for the time spent grading assignments, etc.
Overall it makes for a system where a skilled, in-demand worker may work 50 hours a week yet only be paid for 20. That 20 hours will be paid at a rate lower than nationals of that country would make, and of that pay, a large portion of it (often 60-75%) is to be paid back to the government for the privilege of working.
As mentioned above, this does not bode well for teachers. But what school owners and governments fail to recognize is that it doesn’t bode well for them either. Systems such as these create a class of impoverish workers among people with high-demand skills. It puts the very people whom are needed to provide German (and Polish, and French, and Chinese) workers with the invaluable skill of learning the international language of science and business in a very awkward situation. Their willingness to come to these countries, to work long hours, to spend their days educating the very workers the country needs, are rewarded with poverty.
Putting teachers in such a position is a sad affair for these countries and in the end results in a lower quality of education for its workers. Teachers with skills shall inevitably be forced to look to other markets for work which rewards their skills with a living wage, while countries like Germany and Poland will be left with only the lowest quality of teacher.
Germany led the ESL industry down this path from reasonably paid salaried positions, to full-time hourly employment, to part-time employment, and finally to freelancers. They have done this to save money. Now they need to reverse the policies that have made these deplorable working conditions the norm. To save their industry, and to protect their citizens from unscrupulous school owners increasing profits by providing low-quality courses from underpaid teachers, they need to step in, and regulate the Language Training Industry just as they would any other industry.