German Court rules in favour of new minimum wage for prisoners

German Court rules in favour of new minimum wage for prisoners

Two German prisoners have won their case at the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, which has now ruled that paying prisoners less than two euros per hour is unconstitutional.

German prisoners win court case over wages

A ruling at Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court in Baden-Württemberg has decided that paying prisoners in the federal republic less than two euros per hour is unconstitutional.

The ruling was made after two prisoners from Bavaria and North Rhine-Westphalia filed a lawsuit to contest their low wages. In many German federal states, prisoners are obliged to work while they are serving their sentence, the idea being that doing so will aid their return to work once they are released. However, unlike other working people in Germany, all of whom are entitled to a minimum wage of 12 euros per hour, there is no minimum wage for prisoners.

According to the Chair of the Second Senate, Doris König, the two prisoners were being paid between 1,37 and 2,30 euros per hour. These rates were based on the only previous ruling on the subject, a decision made by the same court back in 1998, determining that prisoners be paid 9 percent of the average pay for someone with a statutory pension.

The new ruling therefore marks the first review of the law in over 20 years. Governments in Germany’s federal states now have until June 2025 to make necessary changes to ensure that prisoners are paid over two euros per hour.

Prisoners’ Union says inmates face economic exploitation

According to the plaintiffs, pittance prison wages mean that inmates cannot repay debts while they are serving their sentence and are also unable to provide their families with any financial support. In many cases, they are offered days off or the opportunity to shorten their sentence in lieu of pay. 

During the hearing, the two prisoners accused the German state of profiting from their labour, a claim which was rejected by the Bavarian Ministry of Justice, which pointed to the low productivity rate of prison labour.

In the US, recent reports by the American Civil Liberties Union said that prisoners in the country produce 11 billion US dollars worth of goods and services per year and in the UK, it has been reported that private companies employ hundreds of prisoners who may receive as little as 50 British pence per hour for their work.

According to a report by SPIEGEL, many prisoners in Germany also work for private companies. The magazine claims that in prisons in Lower Saxony, around 33 percent of sales are made to entrepreneurial customers, such as car companies or lift manufacturers.

Responding to the Karlsruhe court's decision, former prisoner and member of the German Prisoners’ Union (GG / BO), Manuel Matzke, called for proper compensation for prisoners' work and said that external companies in Germany have discovered prisons as an “economic zone” for cheap labour.

Thumb image credit: Mo Photography Berlin /

Olivia Logan


Olivia Logan

Editor for Germany at IamExpat Media. Olivia first came to Germany in 2013 to work as an Au Pair. Since studying English Literature and German in Scotland, Freiburg and Berlin...

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