What rights am I entitled to as a temporary worker?
Subcontracted labour ("Leiharbeit") is also known as temporary employment or temporary work. Subcontracted workers sign a contract with a company which "lends" them as employees to various other companies. When you have an employment contract with a temporary employment agency, you will be temporarily sent to other companies which are in urgent need of staff. Although you will work for the designated company, you will not be considered a regular staff, as the temporary employment agency will be paying your wages. The temporary employment agency remains your employer, i.e. for instance, they will be the authority at which you need to apply for your holidays, and they cover your social insurance contributions.
Please note: Subcontracted work does not mean "short-term work". As a subcontracted worker, you are mainly employed by your temporary employment agency and only occasionally change the company in which you work. The contracts signed between the workers and the temporary employment agencies are usually open-ended.
Temporary employment is often available in the metal and electronic industries as well as the security, logistics, transport, administration and office sectors. In general, however, one can do temporary work in any industry. Even unskilled workers are sought-after and hired by temporary employment agencies.
What do I need to know?
It is usually easier to find a job at a temporary employment agency. Subcontracted labour can, therefore, function as an opportunity for entering the German job market. Subcontracted labour often means working in several different companies, so you can also gain a lot of experience and make professional contacts. Sometimes, a temporary worker is eventually hired as a regular employee by the company he has been sent to as a subcontracted worker. However, this only works when your employment contract with the temporary employment agency has expired or terminated.
Subcontracted labour also entails some disadvantages: The company which "borrows" you, rather than paying you directly, pays the temporary employment agency for your labour. To stay profitable, the temporary employment agencies usually pay the workers less than what they could earn as a regular employee. Furthermore, employment in different companies often means frequent changes in your working environment. So you have to adapt to new jobs, colleagues, and workplaces all the time. In some cases, this also means you have to anticipate long commutes to work.
The rights of temporary workers are regulated by the laws governing the lease of employees (“Arbeitnehmerüberlassungsgesetz” or AÜG). Many temporary employment agencies are also bound by sectoral collective agreements. Sectoral collective agreements are the agreements signed between companies and unions for regulation of working conditions in a particular industry.
- You have the right to receive a written document which specifies your working conditions, including the starting date and duration of your employment, a brief description of your tasks, the amount of your salary, the number of weekly working hours and the deadline for a cancellation notice (“Kündigungsfrist”). Having such a document is crucial, particularly when a problem occurs between you and your employer.
- You have the right to the same working conditions as the regular employees of the company which "borrows" you on a temporary basis. That means you must not be treated differently compared to your other colleagues who are not subcontracted.
- In principle, you are not allowed to work for the same company for more than 18 months. If your temporary employment agency assigns you to a company for more than 18 months, it automatically means that the company which has "borrowed" you is your official employer- but you can stick to your contract with the temporary employment agency if you prefer. To do so, you must go to the Federal Employment Agency and submit a request in writing.
- You do not have to accept all the jobs which the temporary employment agency offers you. In principle, you are only required to fulfil the tasks listed in your contract. If you, for instance, have been hired to work in the metal industry, you do not have to accept a job as security staff.
- At the start of your work, the temporary employment agency must hand you over the "Information Leaflet for Subcontracted workers" provided by the Federal Employment Agency. In this leaflet, your rights as a temporary worker are specified. You are entitled to demand this leaflet in your native language.
- You are entitled to receive (at least) the minimum wage for your work. In west Germany, the minimum wage for subcontracted workers currently equals 10.15 euro- and in former East Germany, it is €13,50 (as of January 2024).
- If you, as a subcontracted worker, are sent to work in the same company for more than nine months, you will, in principle, be entitled to receive the same salary as your other colleagues there. In some industries, there may be sectoral collective agreements which stipulate that subcontracted workers are entitled to the same wages only after 15 months.
- You should receive wages from your temporary employment agency, even if you are not currently assigned to any company.
- Overtime hours are usually not paid. Instead, you will be entitled to time off in lieu. For instance, if you work for more than eight hours in one day, you may leave early on another day or take a whole day off. But you have to communicate with your boss first- your temporary employment agency regulates the issue of time off in lieu.
- The temporary employment agency usually has to pay the travel costs for your commute between its office and your place of work. The travel time is not considered as working time. It must be specified in your contract how far your workplace may be from the location of the temporary employment agency.
Temporary employment agencies are often looking for new employees- and they use regular job search engines for recruiting. You can read more on this in our chapter "Job search and application." You can also check Zeitarbeit Portal and Zeitarbeit Job Netzwerk to find a temporary employment agency in your state or city.
If you face a problem in the workplace, you can contact the Workers' Council ("Betriebsrat") of the company at which you are assigned to work. The Workers' Council represents the interests of the employees in the company. One of the council's tasks is to ensure that laws and sectoral collective agreements are respected. If you face any difficulties regarding your salary or other contractually agreed issues, then the Workers' Council at the temporary employment agency is where you should contact. In case your temporary employment agency does not have a Workers' Council, you can take those problems to the Workers' Council at the company where you are assigned to work. You can usually find the working hours of the Workers' Council in the break room or on the office's message board.
You can also visit the counselling centres of the project “Fair Integration”. Their staff speak several languages and can provide you advice free of charge if you face any problems with your employer. On faire-integration.de, you can search for one of their offices in your area.
If you are discriminated against -in the temporary employment agency or a company where you have been assigned to work- due to your family background, nationality, sexual orientation, gender or age, you can contact the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency. The staff are available on Mondays (13:00 to 15:00), Wednesdays and Fridays (9:00 to 12:00) at 030-18555 1855. You can also contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The staff speak German, English and Arabic.
Please note: You can seek help from all of these agencies anonymously if you prefer so. That means your boss will not know about your complaint unless you want him to.
There are usually some "rotten apples" among the temporary employment agencies, i.e. companies that do not abide by the law. The law-abiding temporary employment agencies are often members of associations such as the Federal Association for Personnel Service Providers (“Bundesarbeitgeberverband der Personaldienstleister” or BAP) or the German Association for Temporary Employment Agencies (“Interessenverband deutscher Zeitarbeitsunternehmen” or iGZ). You can either Inquire directly at the temporary employment agency or check their website to see if they are a member of any of these associations before signing an employment contract. To learn more about Temproray Employment Agencies, visit prosoft.net.