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Public Service: The Failure of German Collective Bargaining

Public Service: The Failure of German Collective Bargaining

Unions and employers have been fighting in Potsdam over the income of 2.5 million employees since Monday.

Collective bargaining for the public sector at the federal and local levels has failed. Employers and unions have not reached a conclusion in the last three rounds of planned negotiations. The independent arbitrators will now look for a solution. During the arbitration period, there is a commitment of peace – so there will be no new work stoppages in the public sector during the Easter days.

“In the end we had to realize that the differences are insurmountable,” Verdi team boss Frank Wernck said early Thursday morning in Potsdam. The head of the civil servants union dbb, Ulrich Silberbach, also expressed his views on behalf of his union.

Shortly thereafter, Home Secretary Nancy Visser announced: “We will now hold arbitration.” Visser and municipal negotiator Karen Wielg lamented that the unions had declared their failure. Employers would have provided an additional income of 8 percent, a minimum amount of €300 and a one-time payment of €3,000.

In arbitration, pre-appointed independent arbitrators propose a solution within a specified period of time. The parties to a collective bargaining agreement then negotiate this again.

Income of 2.5 million employees

Since Monday, trade unions and employers have been negotiating in Potsdam for the entry of 2.5 million employees into the third round of negotiations. The Verdi union and the Civil Servants Association demand db extra income of 10.5 per cent, but no less than €500 extra per month. This lower amount is crucial for them: for those with lower incomes, this should compensate for the higher inflation. VKA has long refused the minimum amount.

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Employers dismissed the demands as a whole as unaffordable. For the second round of negotiations in February, they made an offer that was much lower. They offered 5 percent more salary and one-time payments of 1,500 initially and another 1,000 euros later. The unions responded angrily with ever larger warning strikes.

In the past few weeks, unions have paralyzed public transportation, as well as day care centers, clinics and garbage disposals with massive warning strikes.

‘Biggest warning strike in decades’

Verdi sees himself strengthened by the massive warning strikes of the past few weeks. Verdi boss Frank Wernick spoke of “the largest participation in the alarm strike in many years and many decades”. The syndicate has registered more than 70,000 entries in the past three months.

Members of a number of professions are affected by collective bargaining in the public sector—including teachers, bus drivers, swimming pool employees, firefighters, nurses, administrative staff, geriatric nurses, sewage treatment plant employees, foresters, and doctors. It relates to the income of more than 2.4 million employees of municipal employers and 134,000 employees of the federal government. According to the will of the trade unions, the result should be passed on to civil servants.