Pact for improving competitiveness and safeguarding production sites at Ravensburger AG

A "Pact for improving competitiveness and safeguarding production sites" recently introduced at the German games manufacturer, Ravensburger AG, foresees an unpaid two-hour extension of working time from the collectively agreed 36-hour week to a 38-hour week.

On 28 May 1997 the management at Ravensburger AG, one of Germany's most important producers of games, with about 1,250 employees, presented its workforce with a document called the "Pact for improving competitiveness and safeguarding production sites" (Bündnis zur Stärkung der Wettbewerbsfähigkeit und Standortsicherung). The core of this document is the company's plan to extend weekly working time from 36 to 38 hours without any wage compensation for the employees. In return the company promises that no redundancies will be made until the end of 2000. Furthermore, Ravensburger plans to introduce a new profitsharing system, whereby the employees will receive an annual bonus of between DEM 850 and DEM 2,600 depending on the company's economic performance.

According to Ravensburger management, the company pact has become necessary to deal with growing international competition in the games sector, and to equalise the claimed disadvantages of the German production sites. For example, the head of the Ravensburger management board, Dorothee Hess-Maier, pointed out that working time at Ravensburger's subsidiary in France is 39 hours per week. The management had, therefore, originally intended to extend working time to 39 hours a week, but later changed it to a 38-hour week.

Nevertheless, as Ravensburger AG is a member of the Paper Processing Employers' Association (Hauptverband der Papier, Pappe und Kunstoff verarbeitenden Industrie) the company is covered by the branch-level collective agreement for paper processing which sets working time at 36 hours per week. Consequently, the media and printing union, IG Medien, accuses Ravensburger of breaking the provisions of the most recent collective agreement and demands that employees do not accept the company pact. However, the works council at Ravensburger, of which the majority are non-union members, is supporting the company pact as a contribution to the safeguarding of jobs.

In June 1997, the management at Ravensburger started to ask each individual employee to support the new company pact and to introduce the pact's provisions into their individual employment contracts. Thereby the employees could chose whether they wanted to extend working time to 38 hours or continue to work 36 hours while taking a proportional cut in wages. The management stated that, in the end, about 88% of the employees were willing to accept the company's pact. However, IG Medien claimed out that it had received more then 80 letters from Ravensburger employees saying that their supervisors had put pressure on them to support working time extension. Even the company's management board itself declared in an open letter to its workforce that it felt regret for the fact that some managers had threatened employees with negative consequences if they were not willing to accept the company's pact.

Nevertheless, the policy at Ravensburger is not a single phenomenon in recent German industrial relations. Other companies, for example Mohn GmbH (DE9705214N) or Continental AG (DE9707222N), are already following the pattern of "working time extension without wage compensation". Critics claims that the companies thereby exploit the employees' fear of a relocation of production and job losses in order to make them accept working conditions which are below the recent collective agreements.

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