Secondclass Workers

13 Jan

The Honorarlehrer in Germany

In Europe we have various categories of second-class workers, and one of these is the Honorarlehrer. These are qualified teachers employed for specific courses and/or classes only and paid a fee when the totality of the work is completed. What’s the problem then? Well, this fee-paid, short-term, ad hoc basis for specific tasks is fine as originally established for lawyers, architects, doctors and the like, and also my Steuerberater (tax advisor), who charges 60€ an hour.

Teachers, however, are not paid on the same scale and do not enjoy the considerable advantages accorded to those with a “proper” job, a beast becoming increasingly rare in the EU. The Honorarlehrer in fact labours under the following DISadvantages:

  • The life of an Honorarlehrer is precarious – you never know if and when you will be able to find enough work to keep you off the streets and/or away from the state begging bowl.

  • You get NO holiday payment, NO health insurance payment, NO contribution to a pension and NOTHING AT ALL if you can’t work because you are ill.

  • So you can’t afford to be ill because A) you immediately lose money and B) there is a good chance your employer will take on someone else next time who in their estimation is less likely to be ill.

  • You also have more difficulty than salaried workers in getting bankloans, specifically and most importantly if you seek to buy a house, since you cannot guarantee a regular income to a bank.

  • In ADDITION to all the above, in many cases Honorarlehrer doing a three-month course are not even paid until the END of this period, but no explanation is forthcoming from the employer as to what their staff are supposed to live on while waiting to be paid.

  • On top of this, it is in the regulations that staff who have worked diligently a FULL THREE MONTHS will ONLY get paid if they fill in some paperwork correctly.

Salaried employees on the other hand none of the above disadvantages, and among “salaried employers” we must of course include the university bosses and administrators who make and organise the system of Honorarlehrer.

And why is this practice prevalent in Europe? It is of course far cheaper. Employers have no insurance, holiday or pension money to pay for a start, and obviously have reduced personnel costs.  An added bonus is that the workforce is fragmented, which mitigates against any possible form of collective bargaining. The consequence of all this is that it is almost impossible to get a proper, full-time, properly paid job in the teaching profession – unless you work for the state, whose employees are thus massively advantaged over the private sector, including remuneration levels. It seems that a Doctorate is about the minimum possible qualification required in order to get a job administering teachers who have no hope of ever getting a “proper” job, no matter how good a teacher or indeed teaching administrator they might be

C’est la vie, but it isn’t particularly moral, is it?

As for the administrators who remind their hired staff that they will ONLY get paid – even after three months of diligent and professional work – if they complete certain paperwork, I am not sure if they have understood that this is an unacceptable threat. Firstly, the people they hire are qualified professionals who understand the rules (immoral though they may be) and would in normal circumstances not dream of not doing their best to comply. Therefore, being the conscientious professionals that they are, it is insulting to be threatened with the withholding of reimbursement for work already done OVER THREE MONTHS.

A manager’s primary task is to keep the workers happy. Unhappy workers = poor results and eventually no staff and the collapse of the enterprise, except of course that universities and their departments – like the banks – are too important to fail.The correct procedure – given these immoral rules – is to state them clearly at the beginning of the work, and then re-explain what teachers  are supposed to do at the END of the work WITHOUT the accompanying threats. In those RARE cases where a hireling does NOT complete the required tasks then in THIS case the authorities should take the matter up with the individual concerned and not issue a pre-emptive general threat to ALL the hirelings.

As for the failure to pay workers until the end of a period of three months, it is astonishing to me that this can – in the wonderful, Nobel-Peace-Prize winning EU (Let’s forget that it was the Allies that saved Europe from fascism during the last war and from “communism” after it)  – even be legal. The EU is about equality and justice, and I fail to see how an Honorarlehrer is in ANY way equal to a salaried university teacher or administrator. There IS no equality there at all. At the VERY LEAST we should be paid MONTHLY, just like the people who hire us. Yes, this would cost the university a bit of time and even money, but so be it.

This Honorar system is not confined to Germany. It may even be an essential way that the teaching of ad hoc courses has to be organized, but that does not lessen our sympathy for the difficulties faced by the victims of this system, which is – as previously stated – ever more common in Europe. We Honorarlehrer do not usually complain; there are things in life one has to accept, but the contrapartie is that fully-salaried administrators should appreciate their vastly advantageous positions and show more respect for those who actually do the work.

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Posted by on January 13, 2013 in Education, European Union


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