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Fight against workshops for disabled people: MEP Katrin Langensiepen fights for the end of the facilities


Workshops for the handicapped are designed to get people fit for the job market, but there are only a few regular jobs. The model is lucrative for companies, and MEP Katrin Langensiepen wants to change that.

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Katrin Langensiepen wants to be seen for who she is.

Hiding because she has a disability is out of the question for her.

She has been a member of the European Parliament for the Greens since 2019.

Spokesman for the European Parliament


Katrin Langensiepen


Katrin Langensiepen, politician


Social justice is the cement that holds the EU, our Europe together.«

Langensiepen has been fighting for the rights of people with disabilities for years and takes on an industry that generates billions in sales every year: the so-called workshops for people with disabilities.


Langensiepen, politician


We are no longer in the year 1960, but in the year 2022. And we are condemned for these structures by the UN, by the EU, by the ECJ.

It can't be legal, it's illegal.


And that's what it's all about: far away from the general labor market, around 320,000 people are currently working in workshops for people with disabilities in Germany.

According to the Social Security Code, these are considered rehabilitation facilities.

Employees are not paid regular wages for their work.

They receive a so-called workshop fee, which averages 1.50 euros per hour.

We meet Rolf Tretow, the managing director of the Hamburger Elbe-Werkstätten, the largest workshop operator in Germany with over three thousand employees.

Birgit Großekathöfer, reporter


Where are we now


Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops


We are now on the first floor of the workshop and we are now going to our apron production.

It's a private label, it's called Guttasyn.

We have been on the market for 20 years and are selling our aprons very successfully.«

Occupational safety aprons produced for specialist retailers, exclusively made by people with disabilities.

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops

'Yes, good day.

Maybe tell me what you're doing here."

Melanie, workshop employees

“Well, I'm threading the tapes now.

And then in such a way that it's over so that you can see the label when you fold it over like that.«

As early as 2015, the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities criticized Germany for the anti-integration structures on the labor market and recommended the gradual abolition of workshops.

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops


May I have one?



And this is what a finished apron looks like.

I can put that on myself once.«

Birgit Großekathöfer, reporter

"And how many of these do you sell?"

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops

“You'll have to ask my colleague about that.

How many of those aprons do we sell a year now?”

Colleague of Rolf Tretow

"We sell about 80,000 a year."

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops

"Yes, 80,000."

Birgit Großekathöfer, reporter

"And what is that turnover?"

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops

"That's 600,000 euros.

Yes, you can make money with it, also very well.«

The only problem is that the people who work 35 hours a week here in Hamburg receive a monthly workshop fee of around 270 euros.

Although this is above the national average, it is a long way from the statutory minimum wage of 12 euros per hour.

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director

»Of course we can also see that this fee is low.

But it is also due to the fact that the people here, due to their disabilities, cannot produce as much as if we had a production line here with people without disabilities.«

Birgit Großekathöfer, reporter

"And do you think that's fair now


Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops

»Well, if we say 270 is of course a very low fee and every viewer would now say that's actually not enough, then that's basically correct.

But on the other hand, you have to imagine that if you now say, okay, the employees should now get more and such an apron costs ten euros in stores, then you would have to say that in order for the employees to get more money, you wouldn't have to but pay 50 euros.«

Katrin Langensiepen, MEP

“It's a dumping wage system.

You have to say that very clearly.

Bulgaria and Romania is more expensive for a company than having it produced in a workshop for disabled people.

We go into a fair trade shop and want the chocolate from Africa, from South America and we pay the utmost attention to it, please not from children or below minimum wage and fair payment.

That's so important then.

But when we then buy products from workshops, it has to be enough for the people there to be happy and satisfied.

There's a cynical, ableistic image you have of a disabled person."

Due to a congenital malformation, Langensiepen have not grown spokes, so their arms are shortened.

As a young woman, she was also supposed to work in a workshop, but she resisted and took her Abitur at a regular school.

The forerunners of the workshops, founded in the 1960s, offered people who were unable to access the labor market due to a disability a place where they could pursue employment for the first time.

Today, however, the workshops should not only offer a job, but also promote the "transition of suitable people to the general labor market".

At least that's what the Social Code says.

But successful cases are rare: only around one percent of employees make it onto the general job market.

Once you get into a workshop, you usually stay there until you retire.

Akua Opaku has been working for the Elbe workshops for eleven years and lives with her parents.

The 30-year-old works here full-time and enjoys coming to the workshop.

In addition to her workshop fee of 270 euros, like all workshop employees, she also receives social benefits to ensure her livelihood.

Akua Opaku, workshop workers

»In the future I would also like to look into other areas, not just here in the Elbe workshop, but also outside of it, such as in the PC area, what else can you do there.

I would simply wish that many people would simply be more interested in us, after all we are only human and want to work.


Because of their size, around 170,000 companies in Germany are obliged to give five percent of their jobs to people with severe disabilities.

But a quarter of the companies do not employ a single severely disabled person.

They prefer to buy their freedom by means of what is known as the statutory “compensation levy”, with a maximum of 360 euros per month for each vacant compulsory position.

However, companies can reduce these statutory »compensation fees« by placing orders with a workshop for the disabled.

Around 30 percent of the Elbe workshop employees work in so-called external work groups, such as at the international coffee roasting company Darboven.

Employees from the workshops have been coming here since 2010 and packaging coffee.

Susanne Müggenburg, Head of Marketing

»Here, for example, trays are packed for the Mövenpick company.

And then those are mixed trays, we wouldn't do that mechanically because it's packed individually again and again.

And then we do this manually if something like this is requested.«

There are currently 28 workshop employees working here.

One of them is Tim Zülske, he has been with us for three years.

Birgit Großekathöfer, reporter

"Is it better in such an external group than just working in the Elbe workshops?"

Tim Zülske, workshop employee

'Yes, it's different too.

You also come into contact with other people here.«

But Tim Zülske and his colleagues are not on an equal footing with the permanent employees; they work here for less than two euros an hour.

They are excluded from the statutory minimum wage because they have a contract with the sheltered workshop and not with the Darboven company.

Rolf Tretow, Managing Director Elbe workshops

“It's a win-win situation for both sides.


without these orders

, without this subsidy, we would not have nearly as many sales and would then have to pay even lower fees.«

The aim of the cooperation between the Elbe workshops and the Darboven company: integration.

But after twelve years, the balance here is rather meager.

Only three workshop employees have made the leap to permanent employment here since 2010.

Susanne Müggenburg, Marketing Manager Darboven

“It's only three now, but at least that's three.

For us, this is a good sign that inclusion is working and it gives us courage in the hope that there will be more.


Katrin Langensiepen, MEP


Industry can have things produced, we also do something good.

We can free ourselves from the compensatory levy, people are taken care of, you don't have to worry.

And let's break it down properly, it's cheap too.

Then we mustn't get upset about what's happening in India, what's happening in South America.

Then we have to take a very clear look at what is happening here in the European Union, how are people with disabilities doing, under what conditions do they work, under what conditions do they work, and how does the private sector benefit, including the public sector, all of us as Customers who say, oh, how great, I'll buy that.

So everyone benefits from it, or very, very many – except for the people who work there

Germany is still a long way from an open, integrative labor market that is accessible to people with disabilities.

The coalition agreement states that the aim is to develop a more transparent and sustainable remuneration system for workshops for people with disabilities.

Until then, Katrin Langensiepen will continue to fight for transparency and the rights of people with disabilities.

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2022-12-03

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