Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund


Nine days in hell and other care worker stories



By Anna Debreczeni

With the aging of the European population, long term care sector is increasing too. One of the biggest target countries is Germany.

An estimated 180,000-200,000 households in Germany employ undeclared care workers from abroad, compared to around 30,000 households that use formal live-in care services through placement agencies. (Source: In this case the care worker lives in the same home as the senior, who needs to be taken care of professionally, and provide a round the clock service.

Around half of live-in care workers in Germany are coming from Poland. They are usally women, above 50 and of a low income background, who don’t speak German at all or only at a basic level. These factors already make them especially vulnerable to exploitation.

Magdalena Kossakowska works for the All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions, the biggest trade union confederation in Poland, that is assisting in Fair European Labour Mobility’s project to help care workers since 2019.

She explained the somewhat unique and disadvantageous legal status of posted Polish care workers and shared some recent cases as well, where she was helping Polish care workers sent to Germany.

Without rights

In Poland, care workers usally sign a contract with a Polish agency. Polish care workers provide their services almost entirely under civil contracts, and not under labour law, so they are not protected good enough by law. They are not entitled to workers’ rights, that would protect them much better.

„This is the main problem. Care workers don’t understand, why they do not have for example payed holidays, payed overtime or additional money for night shifts. In these cases, care workers can only expect what’s written in their civil contract, where these workers’ rights are not included”,  explained Magdalena.

In this legal situation the posting agencies are the real winners, they save a lot of money, because they don’t need to pay as much for the care workers as in the case of normal employment contracts – not to mention the German minimum wage.

Another big issue is the way how Polish posted care workers are insured by the Polish social security system. In many cases, it is not clear how the social security contribution is calculated for posted care workers or agencies pay much less than they ought to – if they pay at all”,  said Magdalena.

Gun in the bedroom

Izabela (we don’t use the care workers’ real names) signed a contract with a Polish agency to take care of an elderly lady in Germany.

When she arrived, the conditions in the house were worse than described in the contract, and the lady was behaving agressively. Izabela tried to reach the coordinator of the posting agency who was suppposed to help in case of any problems, but didn’t succeed.

It is important to note at this point, that in some of cases seniors are agressive, sometimes due to their medication. In some cases  they should be living in professional institutions and not at home, because they need professional medical help, that a care worker cannot provide.

The last drop was when she found out, that there was a gun in the lady’s bedroom. She got afraid and decided to terminate her contract on e-mail with the posting company. After this, the coordinator finally contacted her and told her to talk to the lady’s family if they agree with her leaving the house and inform them about the gun.

Izabela told everything to the family, who advised her to leave the house immediately. „This is how she found herself only after 9 days on the street waiting for the bus at early morning to get back to Poland on her own money, without any payment for her work”,  described Magdalena.

After this, Izabela contacted a consuelor of Faire Mobilitat, who reached for Magdalena.

„Our job is to try to mediate between the posting company and the care worker. I sent a payment request to her posting company, but they did not acknowledge her claims and refused to pay her remuneration of 650 euros. They said they have all proofs that Izabela is wrong and will fight back in court”,  she detailed. 

„Our part was finished here, as we do not represent care workers in court. We explained to Izabela what she can do and how to proceed, and informed her about the cost of the trial. In some cases it is possible to reach an out of court settlement, or at least to get an explanation, why did things go south”, she added.


Another care worker, Marta signed a four-week contract with an agency and she was working in Germany for the full month.

A day after her return to Poland, the coordinator called her, that she would have 200 euros deducted from her salary, because there was a complaint from the senior’s family regarding the quality of her work. The coordinator also said, that she is informing her about all this out of courtesy only, so that she won’t be surprised when she receives her money.

These shortcomings were such as her reluctance to cook or the fact that she did not come down to the kitchen on time before breakfast. As these allegations were not communicated to Marta on the spot, she had no opportunity to respond. The care worker did not receive any written explanation for the company's unfair decision either.

The caregiver wanted to know how she could pursue her rights to recover the entire remuneration. After concluding a settlement with this company, 100 euros were deducted from Marta’s salary.

Culprit companies

„I find it extremely unfair, that the posting agencies are cutting the salary of the care workers or not paying their social contributions, however, they are going  well and have profits”, summarized Magdalena. In many cases they close after a few months and disappear. One of the problems is that it is really easy to open or close such and agency in Poland. „There should be more control over these companies”, she added.

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