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50,000 freelancers strike back: petition against retirement tax succeeds

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The petition against Germany’s planned €350 monthly freelancer retirement tax has succeeded. More than 50,000 people signed the e-petition, forcing the Bundestag’s petitions committee to schedule a hearing on the issue. News of the plans to slug freelancers with a flat monthly retirement fee sparked a social media campaign to attack the tax. Meanwhile, it has emerged that the labour ministry will pay a million euros to the McKinsey consulting firm to write a report on how the law could be most efficiently implemented.

The petition against the freelance retirement tax jumped from under a thousand signatures last week, to reach the required 50,000 late on Wednesday evening. The huge rush was the result of a grass-roots social media campaign.

Not content with merely reaching the required minimum number of signatures, the campaign initiator Tim Wessels wants to reach a six-figure number before the official end of the petitioning period on May 22. All supporters are being urged to continue encouraging other freelancers to sign up on the official e-petition platform.

Wessels, a 27-year old IT specialist from Hamburg, launched a campaign on the Bundestag’s official e-petition system after reading about the proposed “Rewarding Life’s Work” law. The law, which would come into effect in 2013, would force all self-employed workers in Germany to pay a monthly retirement contribution starting at a minimum of €350. The fee would come on top of compulsory health insurance, which costs between €300 and €600 a month.

Wessels warned that charging entrepreneurs and independent workers €650 a month before they earn a single cent would kill off innovation in Germany. The response to his petition shows that many others are equally worried.

What comes next?

The campaign’s success means the issue must now be heard by the petitions committee. No date is fixed for the hearing.

The minister who is driving the freelancer tax is well aware of the impact of the petition process. Ursula von der Leyen, the minister for labour and social affairs, was the target of another succesful petition campaign. For proposing to censor controversial websites, the politician from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats party was nicknamed “Zensurzula”.

Not content to hear the opinions of 50,000 individuals who will be affected by the proposed freelancer tax, Mrs. von der Leyen this week commissioned an expensive consulting firm to write a report on how the law might be implemented. The consulting company McKinsey will be paid €1 million (for six weeks of work) to write a feasibility study to identify how to her law might be implemented. The study should be prepared by the end of June.


What can still be done?

Those who have already signed the petition can continue by making comments on the official e-petition forum, which will be read by the parliamentary committee when it hears the matter.

Achieving a parliamentary hearing is just the beginning of the process. Those who oppose the planned tax must now work to put pressure on the politicians who will decide the matter. One benefit of the petition’s success is that it will raise the issue in the mainstream media and start a public discussion.

The success of the campaign also shows the effectiveness of the e-petition system, especially when combined with social media. Early last week only 300 people had signed the e-petition. By the evening of Wednesday May 16, 50,000 people had signed the petition. After Deskmag published its first article on Friday May 11, the german version was shared an incredible 29,000 times across Facebook, assisted by coworking spaces who shared our story on the topic with their members.

The campaign has shown that the coworking movement, combined with the tech founders and start-up scene, can have an influence on political debate. It has opened the possibility for future joint campaigns, such as public demonstrations and other creative protest actions.

Coworking spaces are living up to their promise of being locations where individuals can become collectively empowered, while remaining independent. We’ve already seen how working collaboratively can impact positively on their personal productivity and creativity. Now in Germany we are witnessing how coworking can have a similar impact on social and political issues.

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Update:

The petition ended on May 22. More than 80,000(!) people signed up.


Related articles:

Freelancers to pay more in Germany

New €350 monthly freelancer tax “will kill innovation in Germany”

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