Customs investigators

On the lookout for businesses employing illegal workers

Bäckereiangestellte Elke Schlösser gibt einem Zollfahnder Auskunft über die Beschäftigungsverhältnisse.

Bakery employee Elke Schlösser answers questions of the customs inspector about terms of employment. 

BONN. Customs investigators were out in Bonn this week looking for businesses employing illegal workers.  They were also checking to see if the minimum wage regulation was being followed. 

Six men and women of the customs investigation division walked through Beuel, wearing mint green shirts, gun on the holster.  The customs officer in charge signaled directions to the others, a bakery on Hermannstraße is the next stop.  One customs worker stays outside while two go into the kitchen.  The other three introduce themselves in the bakery sales area, “Hello, customs inspections”.  It is not known why they have zeroed in on exactly this bakery. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, customs inspectors were dispatched throughout Germany to look for companies employing illegal workers.  "In Bonn, the minimum wage and gastronomy are our priorities," says Jens Ahland, spokesman for the Cologne main customs office, which is also responsible for Bonn and the Rhein-Sieg district. It is by no means an undercover affair on this day.  It is meant to be presented in a media-effective way, and journalists are welcome.  The customs investigators not only go to Cologne Central Station but also to shops in Beuel.  Asked about whether these publicized inspections make sense, Ahland responded, “We are not only out on just these two days.  One should always expect a customs inspection.”  This time around it was all about prevention and informing people. 

And the concept works.  Even when businesses learn about the inspections in the news, the shock sits much deeper when the customs officials actually enter the premises.  A young worker at a small café said, “You don’t even know what to do.”  She is asked to present her identity card and hands it over willingly - employees are required to carry them.  “Of course, everyone here is a registered worker, but there is still a strange feeling.”

The customs inspectors come with clipboards and a questionnaire.   Who works here?  What is the monthly wage and the hourly wage? "Many people can not state this information exactly, but that's not so bad." The questionnaire is just a precursor to the work that will follow in the next few weeks when the data is cross-checked with other authorities.    

Ahland said an initial result from the two days of inspections will be announced on Monday. 

Some use tricks to try to bypass the system, but when it comes to minimum wage, usually there are only small problems.  For example, an employer may not have increased wages to keep up with the 8.84 euro minimum.  Bakery employee Elke Schlösser said she wasn’t bothered by the unannounced visit of the customs officials, she thought it had to be like that and it was only fair that people received the wages they earned.  

The General Customs Directorate with headquarters and 320 posts in Bonn, was responsible for coordinating the nationwide action. It hopes that these inspections encourage affected employees to contact them.  This can even work anonymously. Combatting illegal work conditions is a focus of the customs authorities, as directed by the federal government.  Further such inspections can be expected in the future. 

Orig. text: Nicolas Ottersbach, Translation:ck