How do I report illegal construction work

Illegal on Berlin construction sites : On the trail of the illegal workers

Robert Kramer drives to the crime scene on small detours. Where is the view good, where can he park reasonably inconspicuously and take photos unnoticed. Kramer is looking for illegal workers on Berlin construction sites. This morning he is out and about in Wedding. “There is a suspicion when cars without a company name or logo are parked in front of the construction site,” explains the inspector. Just like here.

A few workers are insulating a facade. Kramer drives slowly past the house and shoots photos of cars and workers through the tinted windows. There is also no reference to a construction company on the scaffolding. Another clue about illegal work: cars with Eastern European license plates. And if the scaffolding is inadequate and the workers do not wear professional protective clothing, this also indicates illegal employment.

The minimum wage is 12.20 euros

Kramer (name changed) is a construction site runner in the service of the Berlin-Brandenburg Construction Association. The medium-sized building association has had two “detectives” against illegal work for 15 years. On construction sites with many companies and sub-contractors from various countries, associations and politics have been striving for order and fair competition for years.

This includes a social security fund, borne by employers and employees, with which the construction workers are protected against economic or weather-related failures. The social security fund (SoKa), together with customs, monitors compliance with the minimum wage applicable on construction sites - for semi-skilled workers it is 12.20 euros - as well as the collective bargaining agreements. The set of rules is generally binding and applies to all domestic and foreign companies and their employees working on German construction sites. Like all rules, these only work if they are monitored and sanctioned.

From foreman to inspector

Kramer learned steel and concrete construction in Berlin and then worked his way up to foreman. He has been a permanent construction site runner for the professional association since 2004. The term is a bit wrong, because Kramer does not run, but mainly monitors from the car. Every year he reports a good 100 suspicious construction sites to customs, which then ideally come and let the undeclared work go off. “We have done something good,” says Kramer happily when illegal employees are caught who - more precisely their employers - do not participate in the financing of the social security and the community.

Kramer and his colleague have several company cars and cameras at their disposal, including glasses and hat cameras. Good camouflage is a prerequisite for successful shading; and also relevant from a security perspective. Kramer sometimes leaves the car and goes behind the house or in courtyards to scout out possible escape routes. Customs receives the information and can then carry out the raid accordingly.

Kramer is sometimes approached by the workers and asked what he is looking for. An apartment, replies the detective, so he's looking at the area. So far, he has never experienced really dangerous situations. On the other hand, the work in Potsdam and Neuruppin was dangerous, where the professional group also had construction site runners on the job at times. The detectives were exposed in the manageable construction scene in the small towns. Now Kramer and his Berlin colleague make occasional inspection trips in Brandenburg.

Control is only sporadic

Half a dozen times, the construction site runners inspect a suspicious construction site, take photos and write logs. The surveillance material then goes to customs if, in Kramer's assessment, there are sufficient indications of undeclared work. Around half of the submissions are taken up by customs, Kramer estimates. The instructions from the site runners are "of good substance," according to the customs authorities.

The second surveillance object this morning is an attic extension. In front of the house there is a sign with the name of a construction company - but it is nowhere to be found: Neither at the social security office, nor in the commercial register or on the Internet. That smells like illegal employment. A car with Polish license plates is in front of the door, four to six people work here. "This construction site is reported," says Kramer. Then everything else is in the hands of customs. And whether the hand moves is questionable. For Christian Stephan from the Berlin IG BAU, the control system is "full of holes like cheese". Customs is an authority that tries to sell itself well to the public with reports of success, but in reality controls far too little.

"Quality before quantity" - says customs

The officials of the “Financial Control of Undeclared Work” checked around 1,600 employers in Berlin last year, 100 more than in the previous year. Customs claim the principle of “quality over quantity” and thereby primarily want to target “organized forms of undeclared work”. This means that the controls start on the construction site and continue in the office: What quality are the invoices, is the minimum wage really paid, is there a bogus self-employment? So-called IT forensic scientists examine data streams.

In addition to the construction, the Berlin customs officers are mainly on the move in hotels and restaurants, in the transport industry and in the cleaning industry. The fines and warnings imposed by customs totaled 1.4 million euros in 2018 - that's not much, especially since the customs officials have determined an economic or socio-economic damage amount of 88.6 million euros. In 2017 it was almost 100 million euros, but only 71 million in 2016.

49,000 euros fine because no minimum wage was paid

The main criminal offenses are fraud, the withholding and embezzlement of wages and tax evasion. A construction employer was guilty of these charges, was caught and sentenced to three years and three months' imprisonment. Falling below the minimum wage is much less painful because it is an administrative offense. But it can get expensive. According to the main customs office, a fine of 49,000 euros was imposed on an employer in Berlin who had not paid a counter worker the statutory minimum wage for a period of 23 months.

“It has gotten better, also because of the minimum wage,” says Kramer, looking back on 15 years of running around on the construction site. “And there are also companies that are now working legally,” he says happily about the effect of his work, the value of which cannot really be measured: Nobody knows how big the illegal work actually is.

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