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Monika Reichel has stopped telling people that she works for Deutsche Bank. “It just creates a totally wrong impression as everyone immediately thinks that I must be earning a lot.”
In fact Reichel, who asked the Financial Times not to publish her real name, is one of 530 Deutsche Bank staff whose pay starts at little more than Germany’s minimum wage.
At a bank that paid out €2.1bn in bonuses last year, has 572 employees making more than €1mn a year, and in October announced it would free up additional capital of about €3bn by 2025, official hourly rates at DB Direkt — a wholly owned subsidiary that operates Deutsche Bank call centres — start at €12.05. That is only five cents more than required by law.
Reichel and her colleagues are gunning for change. Workers are calling for a 45 per cent increase in entry-level pay to €17.50 an hour. After Deutsche rebuffed that demand in an earlier round of formal pay talks and failed to present a counter-offer, staff walked out for 24 hours last week.
“We are not just disappointed, we are really angry and ready for a fight,” said a second employee who did not want to be named.
Salaries at Germany’s biggest bank close to the minimum wage were “an embarrassment and a disgrace”, said Roman Eberle, an official at the country’s second-largest union, Verdi, who is leading the wage negotiations.
He points to discount retailers Aldi and Lidl as well as online giant Amazon, which pay at least €14 per hour to their lowest-skilled workers. Next year, the national minimum wage will rise to €12.41.
The bank and the union will meet for a second round of wage talks on Wednesday. Without a serious pay offer from Deutsche, workers are prepared for further extended walkouts, Eberle said.
Low pay at DB Direkt has already caused problems for the bank, people with direct knowledge told the FT. “Since early 2022, more than 100 staff took on jobs in other Deutsche Bank units that pay much better,” one of the people said, adding that the company struggled to find enough new recruits to replace them.
This has led to deteriorating quality of service, the people said. Only 40 per cent of calls are handled within the target time, far short of the 75 per cent target, they added.
Deutsche declined to comment on last year’s churn or its quality targets but told the FT that this year, only 1.4 per cent of DB Direkt’s workforce had left for other roles.
The bank added that the pay for its call centre staff was “in line with fair market remuneration”, and workers receive a guaranteed Christmas bonus on top of their hourly pay. However, the bonus was only introduced after a 13-week walkout by DB Direkt staff in 2021, and at 0.6 times monthly pay, it is lower than at many peers.
People familiar with DB Direkt’s pay distribution argue that no employees are actually paid the lowest rate of €12.05, instead starting on €12.65. The bulk of employees make between €14.40 and €15.46 an hour — the pay bracket Reichel is in.
But according to Verdi, entry-level wages in a similar division at Postbank start a little above €13 an hour, while domestic rival Commerzbank pays at least €14. ING’s German online-only bank pays entry-level call centre staff €16.76 plus guaranteed bonuses, according to the bank. On top of that, ING’s call centre staff receive 1.75 times their monthly salary as a guaranteed bonus each year.
“Our managers regularly tell us that we are one of the most important faces to our clients, but when it comes to pay, we are treated like a commodity,” said a DB Direkt employee.
The rise in inflation over the past 18 months has hit low-income employees particularly hard.
“Without my partner’s salary, I could not make ends meet,” said Reichel, adding that some of her colleagues struggle by the end of the month to pay for the petrol required to drive to work. DB Direkt staff received their last pay rise of 3.5 per cent in 2021.
When DB Direkt workers walked out two years ago, it was a rancorous dispute over the introduction of a perk — the Christmas bonus — that had long been taken for granted by all other Deutsche Bank employees in Germany. “It’s not our goal to have another conflict that bitter, but if the bank leaves us no other option, we are ready for it”, said Eberle.