Unbefristete Vollzeitjobs gelten als reguläre Arbeitsplätze. Alles andere wird meist als atypische Beschäftigung bezeichnet, manchmal auch als prekär: Zeitarbeit, Minijobs, Teilzeitarbeit, geringfügige Beschäftigung und befristete Stellen.

Die Zahl der atypisch Beschäftigten hat in Deutschland in den vergangenen Jahrzehnten zugenommen – vor allem, weil viele Frauen eine Teilzeitstelle antraten. Dementsprechend ist der Anteil der regulären Stellen an allen Arbeitsplätzen auf rund die Hälfte gesunken. Die absolute Zahl der Vollzeitjobs ist aber nahezu konstant geblieben. Die atypischen Beschäftigungsverhältnisse sind also zusätzlich entstanden und haben die regulären Arbeitsplätze nicht verdrängt. Ganz überwiegend speist sich die atypische Beschäftigung aus der Arbeitslosigkeit und der stillen Reserve. Millionen Menschen fanden auf diese Weise den Einstieg in Arbeit.

Zu Unrecht gilt auch die Zeitarbeit als atypische Erwerbsform. Zeitarbeitnehmer sind vollwertige Arbeitnehmer, überwiegend sozialversicherungspflichtig, unbefristet vollzeitbeschäftigt, und sie genießen den gleichen Kündigungsschutz wie Arbeitnehmer in anderen Branchen.

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For decades unemployment increased dramatically in times of recession but failed to revert to its original level in the recovery, a ratchet effect which led to a substratum of unemployed workers. This pattern was first interrupted in the boom years of 2006 to 2008 - partly due to the so-called Hartz Reforms.

The number of unemployed fell from 5m to under 3m. However, many of the long-term unemployed missed out on these labour market successes. These are people who often do not have the qualifications that are in demand or who have lost their skills in the course of their unemployment. In addition, simple jobs can easily be replaced by machines or transferred to countries with lower wage costs. Last but not least, the gap between what low-skilled workers can earn and the state subsidies to which they are entitled is usually very narrow. The incentive to take up employment can therefore be too low.

Legal regulation is a further obstacle to high employment. Compared with other countries the German market is highly regulated. For example, while the laws which protect employees from dismissal encourage employers to retain their employees in times of crisis, the same companies are correspondingly reluctant to recruit when times are good.

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Unemployment is significantly more prevalent among the disabled than in the rest of the population. Often illness and subsequent courses of rehabilitation interrupt the careers of people with disabilities, limiting their chances on the labour market.

To enable the greatest number of those affected to have a working life despite all these difficulties, legislation imposes obligations on companies. Those with 20 or more employees are required to reserve 5 % of all positions for disabled workers. Companies which fail to meet this quota are subject to a compensatory levy for every one of these positions which remains unfilled. The revenue from this levy, which amounts to some half a billion euros annually, is used to promote vocational integration for the disabled.

Some companies are reluctant to hire people with disabilities because they cannot assess their capacity for work. Similarly, the especially strict legislation protecting disabled workers from dismissal and their additional holiday entitlement have often proved obstacles to employment. However, lack of information is still the greatest problem and one which REHADAT has set itself the task of alleviating. This project, sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Labour and implemented by the IW, gathers information on the practice of vocational rehabilitation and makes it available on the internet. The data on assistive devices is also incorporated in EASTIN, a European network.

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The aim of HR or personnel management is to recruit and retain suitably trained staff, a task which demographic change is making increasingly difficult.

As the population as a whole ages and shrinks, so do companies’ workforces, and they are faced with a dwindling pool of younger workers to fill vacancies. As a result, firms must try even harder to attract the declining number of skilled workers.

Women offer an especially promising reservoir of untapped potential, since a smaller proportion are already economically active in Germany than in other countries’. To attract more women into employment, combining a job with bringing up a family must be made easier. The lack of freshly trained workers also means that if high levels of expertise are to be maintained, HR managers will have do more to give their workforce ongoing training. Adopting HR policies based on employees’ life cycles will be important for keeping the workforce motivated and productive right up to the moment they retire.

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Unit labour costs describe the cost of labour per unit of performance. In a national economy average unit labour costs are thus the costs of employing a worker relative to his or her economic performance.

Increasing productivity leads to lower unit labour costs, while increasing wages raises them. Unit labour costs and their development are an important indicator of a country’s competitiveness. Low unit labour costs indicate a distinctly competitive economy, which may be due either to high productivity or relatively low wages. Considerable differences on one side are often matched by similarly great differences on the other. This means that, as a rule, countries with high labour costs work very productively while in low-wage countries productivity usually lags behind.

In Germany manufacturing industry in particular is considerably more productive than the foreign competition. However, this advantage does not entirely compensate for the drawback of high labour costs. All things considered, unit labour costs in Germany are on average about 10 per cent higher than the competition’s.

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