The strong postwar recovery of the West German economy brings about a labor shortage in the early 1950s, which the government hopes to counteract through the recruitment of foreign workers.
On December 20, 1955, an agreement was signed in Rome on the transfer of workers from Italy to the Federal Republic of Germany. Through this accord, the FRG hoped to compensate for labor shortages in the physically demanding work of road and bridge construction, while Italy sought to reduce high rates of unemployment in its southern half. The agreement granted West German labor administrators the right, in cooperation with the Italian authorities, to recruit workers for German firms, provided that German salary conditions were met and suitable accommodation provided. On the German side, the Federal Agency for Employment and Unemployment Insurance (BAVAV) was responsible for the implementation of this agreement’s provisions.
Further such agreements were later signed with Greece and Spain (1960), Turkey (1961), Morocco and South Korea (1963), Portugal (1964), Tunisia, and Yugoslavia (1968), ensuring a steady flow of foreign labor into West Germany. These foreign laborers were referred to as “guest workers”, which made clear that their stay in Germany was seen as temporary.
Up until the “recruitment stop” in 1973 (see also: Recruitment stop in the FRG, 1973), workers were recruited in order that labor needs in mass-production, heavy industry, and in the mining sector during a phase of high economic growth be covered by a supplementary, low-skilled workforce. As their employment contracts were initially temporary, many of these laborers migrated unaccompanied by family members. Only with increasingly longer periods of stay would their families eventually follow (see also: Family reunification and the second generation in the FRG, 1976).
In 1973, 706,000 migrants lived in West Germany. The share of female workers from labor-recruitment countries exceeded 30 percent through to the 1970s. Special regulations applied to women, such as better standards of travel and accommodation. Until the late 1970s, through their assignment to so-called low wage groups, women working in West German industry earned about a third less than their male colleagues. Obviously, the recruitment of female labor was closely tied to the maintenance and expansion of the number of low-wage jobs in the FRG (see also: Strikes by migrant workers in the FRG, 1973).