Outrage as Berlin authorities tell unemployed staff that they must work for a token rate or lose benefits. Frances Mechan-Schmidt reports
Unions have denounced plans to force unemployed teachers to work as pre-school tutors for just one euro an hour.
Klaus Boger, education senator for Berlin, said the city authorities would draft in unemployed teachers to boost migrant children's German under a one-euro-job scheme that comes into effect throughout Germany in January.
Using unemployed teachers as cheap labour in this way would have been unthinkable in the past when Germany was still prospering. But with the economy struggling, the government is trying to curb spending by tightening up the conditions for receiving state benefits.
All unemployment benefit will shrink to a means-tested flat rate paid only to those seriously seeking work. Recipients will be forced to work on the land or do community service for a token hourly rate of one euro in addition to unemployment payments or face cuts in their benefits.
Germany's largest teaching union, the GEW, fears the Berlin move will set a precedent which other states will follow. Ulf Rodde, its spokesman, said it also sent the wrong signals to parents of children whose German was not good enough to start school. "Boosting children's language skills at pre-school level requires qualified, well-trained staff," said Mr Rodde.
"This is a cheap solution to a serious problem, apart from the legal question of hiring people to do a job they're not trained for."
Underlying union protests is indignation that well-qualified out-of-work teachers are being lumped together with long-term unemployed workers possessing few skills, the real target for the federal government's one-euro-job scheme.
Between 30,000 and 40,000 teachers are out of work in Germany and the scheme targets those with no job experience.
The GEW also points out that secondary staff qualified in maths and physics, for instance, are not equipped to tutor young children in German.
Nonetheless, the Berlin authorities are going ahead with plans to set up the language classes from February for children deemed in need of extra tuition before they start school.
"Not all teachers reject the idea. A lot of them see it as a way of getting started in a job-related field," said Kenneth Frisse, a spokesman for Berlin's education authorities.
He said the city would try to recruit primary, rather than secondary, teachers for the pre-school classes and also hire regular language tutors.
Children cannot start school until they can speak German. Screening of language ability was introduced last year following Germany's poor standing in international league tables of secondary performance. Experts pinpointed the large number of ethnic-minority children with poor German as the key factor.