BERLIN (dpa-AFX) - With the reform of the outdated Postal Act, calls are growing louder to limit or completely ban the controversial use of subcontractors. After a majority of the Bundesrat voted in favor of a ban on parcel subcontractors who are not bound by collective agreements at the beginning of February, Frank Bsirske, member of the Bundestag for the Greens and former head of Verdi, has now reiterated his call for stricter legislation to put a stop to the "exploitation" of parcel carriers. He is in favor of a ban on the use of sub-subcontractors and sub-sub-subcontractors - in other words, a ban on subcontracting orders to other companies. The German Retail Association warns of the negative consequences of such a regulation.

Thousands of subcontractors are currently working for the large parcel service providers, often in opaque sub-sub-sub-contractor chains, Bsirske told the German Press Agency. Employees - often from Eastern Europe - often have contracts with two companies, for example for loading and delivery. There are often abuses such as 14-hour days, dumping wages and sleeping in transport vehicles. Medium-sized companies in the sector with proper working conditions are at a disadvantage. Customs are also aware of the abuses. They keep an eye on the industry from time to time, last fall with a nationwide raid by 3100 officers. This uncovered violations of the law.

"Continuation of breach of law threatens"

At the beginning of February, the Federal Council called for a ban on external personnel for sorting, loading and delivery and therefore on work contracts and subcontractor chains. If the subcontractors are bound by collective agreements, they are allowed to work.

The Federal Government takes a different view to the Chamber of States. From the government's point of view, the planned inspections of companies are sufficient, as can be seen from a government response to the demands of the federal states. Bsirske objected: The authorities could hardly control the mobile workers in the confusing industry. "There is a threat of a continuation of the systematic breach of the law," he warned. Therefore, only one subcontractor should be allowed and no subcontractor chains.

Sebastian Roloff, SPD member of the Bundestag, also shares this view. He would even ban subcontractors in the industry in general. However, subcontractor chains are a particular thorn in his side - eliminating them is a priority for him.

FDP warns of "poison for competition"

Opposition comes from coalition partner FDP. "A ban on subcontractors would be poison for competition in the parcel industry," said Reinhard Houben. According to him, DHL's competitors in particular are dependent on the use of these companies. The FDP member of parliament also believes that the assumption "that working conditions in the parcel market are poor across the board and that occupational health and safety standards are structurally undermined" is "simply wrong".

Black sheep must be effectively weeded out, said Houben. "This is regulated by the amendment to the law with the strict requirements that companies must meet in order to be able to register as a provider of postal services at all." The use of sub-subcontractors also makes sense in certain cases. This is why subcontractor liability was already introduced in the Parcel Carrier Protection Act in 2019.

The parcel association Biek, which speaks on behalf of the market leader DHL's competitors, considers contractual partnerships to be "indispensable for the parcel industry". "The entrepreneurial creativity of thousands of contractual partners helps to create jobs and the industry makes a decisive contribution to society with its value creation," reads a Biek statement.

Market leader DHL, which only has around two percent of its parcel volume delivered by subcontractors, is in favor of a ban on sub-subcontractors. According to the Bonn-based company, it has not even concluded such contract constructions.

Criticism from the German Retail Association

The German Retail Association (HDE) was critical of the demands for stricter regulations. "The Postal Act is the wrong place for measures to ensure compliance with labor and social security working conditions," said HDE Managing Director Steven Haarke. There is already independent legislation and specialized supervisory authorities for this. If the regulations in the Postal Act were to be tightened anyway, there would be a risk of small and medium-sized companies leaving the market.

Another open question is whether two delivery staff will be needed in future for parcels weighing more than 20 kilos. According to the government proposal, technical aids are sufficient, while the Federal Council is in favor of a two-deliverer requirement. This point also makes the HDE uneasy. The Federal Council's position "overshoots the mark by far and is not appropriate," says Haarke. The majority of parcels in the parcel market weigh less than five kilograms.

Bundestag debate in the evening

On Wednesday evening, the Bundestag plenary was due to debate the legislative reform, which is due to be completed by the spring. Citizens are likely to notice some changes soon afterwards: Deutsche Post is to be given more time to reduce its costs when requesting letters. This central part of the reform is more or less undisputed. In view of advancing digitalization, it is no longer so important for letters to arrive as quickly as possible, but rather that they reach the sender reliably - this assumption is largely a consensus among politicians./bw/wdw/DP/mis