What salary in nursing would be fair?

Status: 12/30/2021 8:46 a.m.

People who work in nursing should be paid fairly. But what does that actually mean in concrete terms? And how could that be financed later?

By Marcel Heberlein, ARD capital studio

“Fair pay” is easier said than done – and not that easy to calculate. Ute Klammer, a sociologist at the University of Duisburg, has provided an approach that may help in the debate about fair wages in nursing. She says: “A fair payment for a nurse who has completed training would be roughly the same as the payment an engineer receives from us today.”

Marcel Heberlein
ARD capital studio

At eye level with engineers

Klammer and her colleagues compared all professions in a kind of ranking based on the total burden on the employees. That means: What training do you need for the job? What physical and psychological stress are you exposed to there? And what responsibility do you have for people or machines?

“And if you add and weight all of this – there are established procedures for this – you can classify occupations into certain groups,” reports Klammer. “We did that statistically for the first time. And then we see clearly that jobs comparable to nursing would be engineering jobs, for example.”

Different loads

The type of stress varies: In engineering professions, the long training at the university, which is required and that engineers are often responsible for machines, is particularly important. What is important in the ranking for nurses is that they are often physically and psychologically stressed and that they have responsibility for other people.

In a fair world, one could argue on the basis of the ranking, the salary of nursing staff should be raised to that of engineers. According to Klammer, engineers in Germany have a starting salary of 51,000 euros a year. “Of course that also spreads, but that’s a benchmark,” says Klammer. That would be a good 4,000 euros gross per month for a trained nurse.

Differences in salaries

For many employees in the industry it would mean: Up to 50 percent more earnings than before. Elderly care would probably benefit most, because at the moment people are often paid less than in hospitals. There are currently many other differences in salaries as well.

They depend, for example, on whether someone is employed by a private organization or by a church organization. And the federal states also play a role. If everyone were to earn a good 4,000 euros, that quickly raises the question: How to finance?

Who pays?

“If nothing else happens, it would lead to higher contribution rates,” says Heinz Rothgang, Professor of Health Economics at the University of Bremen. “Everything else would have to be reformed into the system. And we already have a federal tax subsidy in the health sector. That could be increased. In the end, we always pay for it.”

In particular, long-term care in nursing homes would have to be financed differently in a “fair” future scenario, believes Rothgang. Because in the current system, higher wages are likely to mean that many will no longer be able to afford a home place.

Load would increase

The reason: Even now, not all costs for care in the retirement home are covered by the care insurance. Rising wages would mean that the personal contribution, i.e. what people have to pay for themselves, increases significantly, says care expert Rothgang.

Even more families could then decide to look after their relatives at home themselves. So the burden on families would increase. If, on the other hand, the home place is to remain affordable, the state would probably have to step in and inject more money. No matter how fair wages are financed in the end, the second great demand of many nurses would not automatically be fulfilled: The one for better working conditions.


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