Hire more refugees, Germany's Gabriel tells DAX companies

Migrants attend a lesson at the "institute for intercultural communication" in Berlin, Germany, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel urged the 30 biggest listed companies to follow the example of small- and medium-sized firms and hire more refugees.

Germany is at the frontline of efforts to integrate migrants into Europe after more than 1 million arrived in the country last year alone, mainly people fleeing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a letter to the chief executives of the 30 DAX companies, seen by Reuters on Monday, Gabriel said big companies seemed far less committed than the thousands of Mittelstand firms that form the backbone of Europe’s largest economy.

According to a survey by newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the 30 DAX companies have hired 54 refugees of whom 50 were employed by Deutsche Post.

Gabriel, who is leader of the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD), pointed to the efforts of many small- and medium-sized companies as well as the DIHK chambers of industry and commerce to build bridges into the labour market.

“But without the flagships of corporate Germany, without you, the bridge isn’t complete,” Gabriel told the CEOs in the letter, adding integrating the record-influx of migrants was Germany’s most demanding task since reunification.

Germany’s labour market is booming. The government expects employment to reach a record 43.5 million this year and nearly 44 million in 2017.

The unemployment rate, 6.1 percent in June, is at its lowest level since reunification in 1990, leaving many companies struggling to hire trained staff.

Reporting by Gernot Heller and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Janet Lawrence