THE GERMAN METALS, ENGINEERING AND ELECTRICAL workers union IG Metall has reached a “ground-breaking” national sectoral pay and conditions agreement with the employers federation Sudwestmetall. The agreement is expected to apply across Germany's engineering industries and cover 3.9 million workers. After surveying members, IG Metall sought a 6% pay deal and a new deal on ‘work life balance’ - with the right for workers to reduce their working hours from a standard 35 hours to 28 hours for a two year period to undertake family responsibilities.
Negotiations began in the Baden-Württemberg region - the manufacturing heartland of Germany - under the German system of sectoral collective bargaining. After the employers offered no concessions on working hours and only a 2% pay offer, warning strikes took place at high profile companies in the region including Daimler, BMW, Siemens, Bosch and Airbus.
The details of the deal are complex - nothing unusual in Germany. The agreement includes a 4.3% plus increase from April this year; a €100 lump-sum for the months January to March 2018 (apprentices will receive €70), and a collectively agreed supplement of 27.5% of a monthly salary and a fixed amount of €400 from 2019. The agreement also includes the right of workers to reduce their working week from a standard 35 hours to 28 hours to care for children, relatives and dependents for up to two years before a return to full-time work. Salaries will be adjusted to fall in line with shorter hours, but some beneficiaries such as young parents, those caring for elderly relatives or people doing shift work, will be able to take more paid holidays.
Unions across Europe have hailed the deal - seeing it as a breakthrough on the issue of working time. Given Germany’s highly centralised collective bargaining structure a similar deal will be more difficult to reach in other EU countries, where collective bargaining is less centralised or national agreements no longer exist. However it marks a shift in the aspirations of workers, especially among younger workers and women members. “ Workers’ priorities have shifted. Instead of higher wages, work-life balance is now in focus,” said German economist Christiane von Berg. “The wage settlement is a milestone on the path to a modern, self-determined world of work,” said Jörg Hofmann, IG Metall’s chairman. The IG Metall union has now circulated details of the agreement to manufacturing unions across Europe.
is Assistant General Secretary of UNITE