In most German federal states, teachers hold a civil servant status: this means that their working conditions are the exact opposite of “precarious”. Indeed, civil servants cannot be fired, and they enjoy comfortable salaries, as prescribed by the law.
Teachers that are employed as “workers” (in the past, as “employees”) under open-ended contracts also have secure jobs. This is the case in Saxony, where only the headmasters are civil servants.
On the other hand, substitute teachers working during a given academic year (often starting at the beginning of the year) are usually given a fixed-term contract until the end of that academic year. On the first day of the summer holidays, they must register as unemployed: they no longer receive a salary from that day onwards, even if they are urgently called in to substitute a teacher again at the beginning of the following academic year. Many substitute teachers find themselves in that position for years. The federal states most affected by this trend are Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria, Lower Saxony and Hamburg.
Overall, unemployment in teaching across Germany is quite low. Demand for teachers is high, but there are regional and establishment-specific differences. For instance, in Baden-Württemberg, hundreds of teachers are required in primary schools, whereas in the secondary schools (“Gymnasium”), there is a surplus of teachers.
In July 2018, 3,300 substitute teacher contracts came to an end, and in Bavaria, 6,699 contracts of the same kind were terminated. Not all of these contract holders registered as jobseekers (e.g. pensioners, who accepted the job for a temporary basis). Substitute teachers that are offered a new contract at the beginning of the following academic year and accept it do not receive any holiday pay for the summer. The Ministry of Culture responds to criticism about these facts by remarking that these fixed-term contract holders were aware of the situation (i.e. the type of contract) when they accepted it. Moreover, it also stated that only approximately 3 percent of teaching staff were concerned by this matter.
Due to pressure from teaching associations, some federal states have reacted by introducing deadline regulations. For instance, recently, Bavaria paid summer holiday pay to substitute teachers having signed a contract up to four weeks following the beginning of the academic year. It seems that a programme has been launched at the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year permitting teachers who have been working on fixed-term contracts for over five years to be granted an open-ended contract. In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, teachers employed on fixed-term contracts who are re-employed at the beginning of the following academic year receive their holiday pay for the summer in arrears. In Rhineland-Palatinate, since 2019, anyone who is employed by 1 March of a given academic year will receive holiday pay for the summer. In Baden-Württemberg and Hamburg, there are no such regulations in place, meaning that substitute teachers on fixed-term contracts do not receive holiday pay for the summer.
This example also demonstrates the results of federalism in general and, more specifically, the federal states’ sovereignty over cultural and educational affairs: sixteen different school systems, sixteen different school leaving certificates (“Abitur”) and different pay conditions for teachers.
The most recently-qualified teachers are also affected by the non-payment of holiday pay during the summer: indeed, teachers having finished their teacher training (“Referendariat”) at the end of a given academic year and are contracted for the following year at a specific school do not get holiday pay. They are in an even more precarious position that substitute teachers, because they must agree to a civil servant status until further notice during their teacher training, meaning that they do not receive any form of pay for over six weeks. As civil servants, they cannot pay into the unemployment insurance system, so they cannot request a jobseeker’s allowance. They have to move to their new school location without any income whatsoever. Whereas lawyers can immediately take on a position after having finished their training, newly-qualified teachers must overcome the summer period without any pay and are therefore made responsible for the fact that there is a holiday regulation in schools. We feel that this treatment is unjust.
For Baden-Württemberg, the savings made in this manner amount to 12.5 million Euro.
For those affected, receiving no income for six weeks is a burden, especially if this system is applied for several years. At the age of 26, 27 or 28, after a long and strenuous period of study and teacher training, recently-qualified teachers do not have any income and cannot always rely on their parents for financial support. They feel like gap-fillers, second-class teachers and find the way their employers treat them humiliating. Aren’t public services meant to be an example to others?
Unfortunately, the analysis of case law points to no change in sight. On 21 November 2018, the European Court of Justice ruled that the practice of ending fixed-term contracts at the end of the academic year can be upheld. Moreover, it was deemed that there was no discrimination against those teachers compared to those who have open-ended contracts. On the basis of this ruling, the ECJ has granted the federal states the possibility to continue applying this practice. In its coalition covenant, the Berlin CDU-SPD political coalition stated that the endless repetition of fixed-term contracts will not be accepted anymore, and such contracts must be significantly reduced. This admirable intention, however, has led to few changes because, as I have already mentioned, the federal states have sovereignty over educational affairs.
What concrete demands can be made on the basis of this analysis?
First, substitute teachers with a new contract for the following academic year should receive pay during the summer holidays. In all affected federal states, appropriate deadline regulations must apply to holiday pay during the summer holidays, in order to prevent economic hardship. In the event of repeated fixed-term contracts or a long-term employment in a school, the contracts must be converted to open-ended contracts, because there is proof of the demand for teachers.
However, the best solution would be the following:
the employment of a teacher for a new academic year is based on the need to comply with the compulsory nature of education. Sick leave due to illness for example can be predicted for the autumn period already. Only if teachers are able to cover 115% of the needs in schools would it be possible to forego substitute teachers, because it is clear that there is no link between the provision of teachers and the cancellation of classes.
At the beginning of the year, thanks to a short-term excess in the number of teachers, classes could be divided. Indeed, often, schools face the challenge of classes that are too large (up to thirty students in the same class), so tailoring teaching, inclusion, an increase in different teaching methods would all make sense. In this case, if a teacher had to substitute an ill colleague, classrooms could be pooled again. If the employment of teachers meant that these teachers could cover 115% of the schools’ needs, the establishments would then have enough margin for manoeuvre to prevent the cancellation of classes and could make sensible teaching choices. Many of the current fixed-term contracts for substitute teachers could be converted into open-ended contracts, meaning that many teachers’ precarious working conditions could become secure.