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Half of German companies face labour shortages despite economic stagnation - survey

Steel workers at energy-intensive steel casting firm in Muehlheim

BERLIN (Reuters) - Half of German companies are struggling to fill vacancies due to labour shortages, the DIHK Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on Wednesday, despite stagnation in the euro zone's largest economy.

Germany, like industrialised countries around the world, is facing deep labour shortages, particularly in skilled high-growth sectors.

The proportion of companies facing difficulties hiring was slightly down from the previous survey of 22,000 companies, falling to 50% from 53% in January, but remained elevated.

"The skilled labour situation remains very critical," said Achim Dercks, DIHK's Deputy Chief Executive.

According to the latest estimate, 1.8 million jobs remain unfilled in the German economy as a whole.

"This means that more than 90 billion euros ($98.8 billion)in added value will be lost this year," said Dercks. "That corresponds to more than 2% of gross domestic product."

The industry and construction sectors were the hardest hit by labour shortages, with 54% and 53% of those companies struggling to fill vacancies, respectively.

"Some sectors are not only talking about gaps in skilled labour, but about a general shortage of workers," Dercks said while presenting the report.

The survey showed that eight out of 10 companies expect negative consequences from labour shortages.

Aware of the struggle, the German government passed new legislation this year to attract foreign workers from non-EU countries, which came into force on Nov. 18.

For Dercks, the implementation of the new law will be crucial to fill the workers gap. "This will only happen very gradually," he said.

More than half of the companies see the recruitment of foreign labour and skilled workers as an option to secure skilled labour, the survey showed.

"What helps in any case is that companies are increasingly turning their attention to the topic and are very open to it," he said. "There is pressure from the business community to make this law a success."

($1 = 0.9113 euros)

(Reporting by Maria Martinez, Editing by Rachel More and Kim Coghill)