Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund

Trinational work on a case of posted Croatian workers in the metal processing industry

Mannheim, summer 2017. Two Croatian workers visited the Fair Mobility Advisory Centre of the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund. The workers had worked in the metal processing industry in Herten for several months, but had received only a part of their wages from the employer.

DGB advisor Dragana Bubulj asked them about their contracts and where they had worked. The Croatians were working for a general contractor from Thuringia, but their employer was a company based in Varaždin, Croatia. The employment contracts concluded by the Croatian firm with the Croatian workers (in German), specified gross wages of 800 euros for a 40-hour week. The possibility of posting was also cited in the contract. The contract specified that if they were posted, they would be paid in accordance with the laws of the country to which they were assigned. The two workers were told that they could expect to earn eight euros gross per hour in Germany.

The workers were not informed that the statutory minimum hourly wage in Germany was set at 8.84 euros, or that even higher gross wages were customary in the metal industry in accordance with collective labour agreements. Neither of the men possessed an A1 certificate, which posted workers are required to present as evidence of social security insurance coverage. They were also uncertain as to whether such a document had been issued by the company.

Dragana Bubulj and her colleague Sunčica Brnardić from the Croatian Trade Union Confederation in Zagreb got to work immediately. On the basis of the workers’ notes and their working-time records, they wrote payment notices (in German and Croatian), but received no response at first.

They eventually reached an employee of the German general contractor. He explained that the payments had been made to the subcontractors and that his employer did not consider himself liable and refused to make further payments to the workers. The subcontractor operated under the name of Kadra, and was obviously a Slovenian company, as the union representatives discovered. They contacted their colleague Marko Tanasić in Ljubljana, who knew immediately which subcontractor they were talking about. The subcontractor had since gone bankrupt, however, and disappeared from the market. Furthermore, the German general contractor stated that he had already severed business relations with the subcontractor due to irregularities. According to the German Posting of Workers Act, the general contractor is to be held liable in such cases, but if the general contractor refuses to meet its obligations, the affected workers have no choice but to pursue their claims in court. Many workers are hesitant to do so in view of the risks involved in litigation – as were the workers in this particular case.