Late Shift

Worker Shortages Feared as Wave of Early Retirees Deplete German Offices

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Retirees gather in a village in south eastern Germany.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A lower retirement age means that German companies are losing skilled workers who may have taken advantage of a partial retirement program in the past.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Partial retirement in Germany has declined since the government cut funding for the program in 2009.
    • Companies facing a shortage of skilled labor are trying to convince employees to keep working after they have reached the standard retirement age.
    • The German government predicts that at least 240,000 people a year will take advantage of a new early retirement program.
  • Audio

    Audio

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Over the last decade, Germany has tightened its generous early retirement laws, saving the government billions of euros and keeping more able-bodied people in the workforce. But a new law adopted this year, which is permitting many to retire with full government pensions at age 63, is about to erase the progress.

That prognosis grew more apparent during the first week of the new pension reform, when 50,000 63.year-olds applied for early retirement. The German federal government expects 240,000 people this year to take advantage of the new program, although the actual number could end up being much higher.

“It depends on how many of those who are 63 to 65 today take advantage of the new retirement program in order to retire early,” said Peter Weiss, a pension expert in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party. Those people, he adds, are not included in current Federal Employment Agency predictions.

For the Federal Association of German Employer Associations, the high number of early retirees is a problem.

“Many companies are losing important, skilled professionals over night, and they won’t be able to replace them all,” a spokesman for the association said. This will only exacerbate Germany’s ongoing shortage of skilled and unskilled workers, driven by its aging population.

Markus Kurth, a pension expert with the Green Party, said 90 percent of employees have taken partial retirement to leave professional life entirely.

Mr. Kurth said new tools are needed to encourage Germans to work longer and ease the growing labor shortage.

“Someone who is at the end of his working life and can no longer work full-time, for health reasons, should be able to reduce his working hours” but remain in the workforce, Mr. Kurth said.

The German government right-left political coalition is looking for ways to boost employment. A coalition task force examining flexible transitions into retirement must attempt “to truly enable all employees” to continue working part time as they age, Mr. Kurth said. He said the panel needs to devise an attractive partial retirement program and, in particular, incentives for low-wage earners to stay active.

The new early retirements threaten to undo years of reforms that had limited government pension costs and raised eligibility requirements, which had allowed many Germans at age 60 to retire with full government benefits. The subsequent legal tightening of benefits has led to fewer and fewer new claims, according to government statistics.

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