Jobs Summit: Germans' work cut out

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The Independent Online
Michael Reichert is too busy to worry about Germany's unemployment. On weekdays the caterer gets up at 4am, buys provisions and prepares his sandwiches to be ready when office workers start in Bonn's government district. He does 80 hours a week, has no paid holidays and cannot afford to fall ill.

Mr Reichert, 35, is the sort of person Chancellor Helmut Kohl counts on to rescue Germany. Such people, not publicly funded grand projects, will put 6 million Germans back to work.

"I would love to work less," Mr Reichert says. "There is no competition. I've got people coming to me from other towns, to see how I do it, so they can start a business at home."

He is not deterred by the wages he would have to pay, which, with compulsory health and unemployment insurance and pension contributions add up to the world's highest. He would need capital initially, but the rewards would be enormous.

"I would love to hire two or three people, but I cannot afford to. I would need about DM50,000 (pounds 17,800) to expand, but no one will lend me the money. The government is offering a scheme to young starters, but the loans are administered by the banks. When you go to the banks, they don't want to know."

That's the end of that. Mr Reichert's present business, which he started two years ago, is about the tenth job in his career. After school he did an apprenticeship as a maintenance fitter but found his skill redundant. "That was really bad," he says. He has also been a decorator, cook, prison guard, policeman and textile wholesaler.

He feels he has displayed enough of the "flexibility" Mr Kohl is banging on about, and hopes his present line of work will be his last. "I am not getting any younger. I think I will stick to this now." The sky is the limit - credits permitting.

Anyone out there with DM50,000 to spare? That also happens to be the cost of keeping one German on the dole for one year.

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