Industrial relations in the public sector – Germany

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 10 Diciembre 2008


Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

This report presents an overview of industrial relations in the central government and public sector in Germany.

1. Structure of the public sector in your country

The definition of the public sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered (e.g. central government, local government, health sector, education, others)?

The public service encompasses the authorities, courts and other institutions of the Central Government (Bund) and the federal states (Länder), local authorities and associations thereof, special-purpose associations, the Federal Railways Fund (Bundeseisenbahnvermögen, BEV) and, in the area of indirect public service, the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit, BA), the Deutsche Bundesbank, social security bodies, and the legally independent public institutions.

The definition of the central government sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered?

The central government sector encompasses the authorities, courts and other institutions of the Federation (Bund).

The following data:

Table 1. Employment and population
Year Central government* Public sector* Total Employees (all economy)** Total Population***
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women




























Sources: *Federal Statistical Office (Statistisches Bundesamt, destatis), Fachserie 14 / Reihe 6; **Bundesagentur für Arbeit;*** Destatis, Bevölkerungsfortschreibung;Notes: *data as of 30 June, excluding marginal part-timers, including military, police and education;** data as of 30 June; employees liable to social security contributions (Sozialversicherungspflichtig Beschäftigte);***data as of 31 December

Table 2. Central government employment
Year Open-ended of which part-time Fixed-term of which part-time
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women


Not available

Not available



Please clarify whether central government employment includes: a) school teachers; b) NHS employees; c) armed forces and police; other non-ministerial employees. If data include these groups of employees, please indicate their numbers (or estimated share).

As for the structure of central government employment see table below

Table 1a: Personnel in central government (Bund) (in 1,000; as of 30 June 2004)
Functional area Personnel
General services


Political guidance and central administration




Public security, law and order


Justice and judicial activities


Fiscal administration


Education, science, research 3


Institutions of higher education


Social security 4


Health, environment. sports and recreation


Food, agriculture and forestry


Energy and water management 5


Transport and communications


Business enterprises




Sources: destatis Notes: 1 Including associations of local authorities; 2 Including foreign affairs; 3 Including cultural affairs; 4 Including social functions to cover the consequences of war. and compensation; 5 Including trade and industry, services.

Please indicate whether fixed-term employment and part-time work are typical of certain organisational areas in the central government sector (for instance, top job positions rather than lower-level occupations) or group of workers (such as employees approaching retirement, new recruits, women, technicians, and the like)

No detailed data available on these issues. In June 2004 there were only 10.7% employees working part-time in central government including the military. If the military is excluded the part-time rate is 17.2%. 62% of all part-timers are women. The part-time rate amongst white collar employees is 26.3%.

Please indicate the presence and quantitative relevance of non-standard employment relationships in the central government sector, and especially of temporary agency work and service contracts with individuals or other non-standard contractual relationships that are important in your country.

There is no detailed data available. However, marginal part-time employment i.e. so-called mini-jobs is marginal. In 2004 there were only 200 marginal part-time employees in central government compared to 155,000 in the public sector as a whole (Source: destatis).

2. Employment regulation

Public sector vs. private sector.

Do (certain) public sector employees enjoy special status compared with private sector employees?

Career public servants enjoy a special status.

Do all public sector employees have the same status or are there differences between different groups of employees, as, for instance, between civil servants, clerical employees and workers?

If public sector employees enjoy special status(es), please specify:

The distinctive features of (each) public sector employment status, highlighting the main differences with the status of private sector employees (and, if relevant, among the various public sector statuses). In particular, indicate whether such differences involve the rights: i) of association; ii) to bargaining collectively; iii) to strike.

The requirements that must be fulfilled to gain (each) such special status(es): i) pass a public examination; ii) achieve a certain tenure in the position; c) in terms of nationality; d) other specific conditions.

Career public servants (Beamte) enjoy a special status. According to constitutional law, career public servants are individuals who are appointed by the state (the Federal Government or the authorities of the individual Länder), a municipality or other legal persons under public law, by being given a letter of appointment containing the words "appointed to the career public service relationship". They have the benefit of a special, state-administered duty of care on the part of their public sector employer, in respect of whom they, in turn, are subject to a special duty of loyalty. Appointment to the career public service relationship is permissible only in order to take on sovereign functions of public administration or functions which, for reasons of national security or particular importance for public life, cannot be entrusted exclusively to individuals who are employed in an employment relationship under private law. Career public servants are excluded from collective bargaining and have no right to strike.

There are no differences in status between white collar and blue collar employees.

Central government. Please indicate whether and how this special employment status regulation applies to central government employees.

Career civil servants are not a special feature of central government employment but of public employment in general.

Please fill in the following table:

Table 3. Status of central government employees (excluding soldiers)
Year Total employees Career public servants and judges White collar employees Blue collar employees
Men Women Men Women Men Women

























Source: Destatis, Fachserie 14 / Reihe 6; own calculation

Please indicate the elements of the employment relationship of central government employees which are regulated by:

Specific legislation.Collective bargaining.

In your answer, please refer specifically to elements such as recruitment procedures, pay (see also below), working time, work organisation, job security and employment protections, social security.

See answer on 2.1. One distinctive feature of the employment relationship is thatcareer public servants are exempt from collective bargaining. Career public servants (Beamte) employed by the Federal Government, the Länder and the local authorities, and also judges, are entitled to the pay specified for their particular post. Its amount is not (as in an ordinary employment relationship ) fixed by collective agreement or contract, but regulated by statute. This entitlement comes into being immediately on the appointment of career public servants. Beamte enjoy life-long employment.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reform of employment regulation in the central government sector since the 1990s has affected:

There was no reform affecting the status of employees in the central government since 1990.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reorganisation and restructuring in the central government sector since the 1990s, for instance through the establishment of special agencies or the separation of specific bodies and offices, has affected:

The status of significant groups of workers.The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships.Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation.

The most important restructuring in central government took place against the background of German unification and the moving of large parts of central administration from Bonn to Berlin. This restructuring did, however, neither affect the status of employees nor the industrial relation framework in central government. The restructuring and privatisation of the Federal Post Service (Deutsche Bundespost) in the years following 1989 and of the Federal Rail Service (Deutsche Bundesbahn) in 1994 did not affect the employment status of those in employment but the status of career public servants was no longer available to future employees. The communications and transport companies resulting from this privatisation were then under private law. Industrial relations at workplace level in these companies are since then governed by the Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz) and no longer by Federal Staff Representation Act (Bundespersonalvertretungsgesetz).

3. Pay levels and determination

Please indicate:

The presence and relevance of collective bargaining on pay in the central government sector.The number and scope of bargaining units on pay within the central government sector.Do minimum wage levels vary across the different bargaining units within the central government sector? Are there common minimum wage levels in the whole public sector?Is there a single job classification system for the whole central government sector?Wage levels and wage increases in the central government and private sectors since 2000 (table 4). If there are great variations across bargaining units within the central government sector, please briefly illustrate such variations.

All employees (except career public servants are covered by collective bargaining. There is only one bargaining unit. There used to be joint bargaining for the whole public sector but the Employers' Association of German Länder (Tarifgemeinschaft deutscher Länder, TdL) left the negotiations after 2003. On 9 February 2005, the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) and the bargaining association of the German Civil Service Federation (Deutscher Beamtenbund, dbb) agreed with representatives of the Federal Government and the Municipal Employers’ Association (Vereinigung kommunaler Arbeitgeberverbände, VKA) on a new general framework collective agreement (Tarifvertrag öffentlicher Dienst, TVöD) for about 2.1 million employees in the federal and municipal public sector. Concluded following two years of negotiations, the TVöD replaces the separate collective agreement frameworks for blue-collar and white-collar employees in the public sector (the BAT and MTArb respectively) that had existed for 45 years. The TVöD came into force on 1 October 2005. The new collective agreement will run until 31 December 2007. The standard weekly working time for public employees at federal level is now 39 hours a week. The new pay agreement came into effect on 1 January 2005. The TVöD introduces a new uniform grading system that applies to both blue- and white-collar workers. It comprises 15 scales, ranging from simple repetitive work that does not require much training (scale 1) to work requiring a university degree, several years of work experience and a supervisory position (scale 15). All pay rates are set on a monthly basis.

Table 4a. Central government: wage levels and increases (average) – employees covered by collective agreements 2002-2004*


White collar employees

Blue collar employees



















Source: Destatis, Fachserie 14 / Reihe 6 (2002-2004)

Note:*Average monthly gross wage; other years not available

Table 4b. All sectors: wage levels and increases (average)*
Year All sectors
Level € Annual increase %



















Source: Destatis, VGR

Note:*Average monthly gross wage per employee

The presence and relevance of variable performance-related pay in the central government sector. Please indicate whether variable pay is particularly relevant in certain bargaining units or organisational areas (for instance, top job positions, officers, or other occupations).

In 1997 the Civil Servants' Remuneration Act ( Bundesbesoldungsgesetz) was amended in order to introduce elements of performance related pay for career public servants. The provisions were further detailed in 2003. There are restrictions with regard to the beneficiaries (no more than 15% of public servants), the amount and the modes of payment. PRP is meant to apply to all categories of career public servants. It is allocated at the individual or team/unit level. The granting of performance-related elements of pay as a means of rewarding excellent performance is applied throughout the federal administration. Aptitude and professional achievements of a career public servant must be evaluated at least every five years.

For public employees who are not career civil servants the bargaining parties agreed in 2005 in principle on the introduction of a performance-related additional payment. This can amount to 8% of the salary of the employee concerned and will be introduced in 2007. On 26 August 2006 ver.di and dbb agreed with public employers on detailed criteria for entitlement to this payment. In cases where the individual performance of the employee is considered to be considerably above average, it is possible to move up the pay grades more quickly. Conversely, should performance be assessed as considerably below average, progression through the pay grades can be slowed down. However, a move to a higher scale is only possible when the employee's occupation or function changes and is not related to performance.

Are there any form of “benchmarking” of wage dynamics in the central government sector with other public sectors or with the private sector? If yes, are industrial relations actors involved in such benchmarking activity?

  1. No

4. Union Presence and density

Please provide information on:

Trade unions which are present in the various bargaining units of the central government sector, their number, affiliation, representational domain, membership, and the sectoral union density (data by gender). Please fill in the following table:

Directly involved in collective bargaining are only ver.di and the bargaining association of the dbb (dbb tarifunion). Ver.di which has a total of 2.4 million members in 2005 represents on the bargaining table also the interests of other affiliates of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB). These are the German Police Union (Gewerkschaft der Polizei, gdp) (175,000 members), the union for the rail sector (Transnet Gewerkschaft GdED) (260,000 members) and the German Teachers Union (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW) (252,000 members). Some these unions like the police union will certainly have members in the public sector at federal level. For all trade unions there are no disaggregated data on central government membership available. Some unions organise both in the public and the private sector. Furthermore the old demarcations have become fluid with the privatization and outsourcing of public activities. Therefore, ver.di and dbb said that they were not able to provide figures for central government membership.

The dbb has a great number of affiliates which organise amongst others career public servants and employees in the public sector at federal level - see the overview below (total membership in brackets):

  • Central administration:

VdB Bundesbankgewerkschaft (7,100)Verband der Beschäftigten der obersten und oberen Bundesbehörden (VBOB) (12,000)

  • Police and defence:

bundespolizeigewerkschaft (bgv)(11,000)Verband der Arbeitnehmer der Bundeswehr (VAB) (10,000) Verband der Beamten der Bundeswehr (VBB) (22,057)

  • Justice:

Verein der Rechtspfleger im Bundesdienst (VRB) (150)Verband der Beschäftigten des gewerblichen Rechtsschutzes (VBGR) (450)

  • Finance:

BDZ - Deutsche Zoll- und Finanzgewerkschaft (32,000) 

  • Social security:

Gewerkschaft der Sozialversicherung (GdS) (35,480)Verband der Beschäftigten der Bundesagentur für Arbeit (vbba) (11,000) 

  • Transport:

Fachverband Wasser- und Schifffahrtsverwaltung (FWSV) (1,400)Gewerkschaft Deutscher Lokomotivführer (GDL) (34,017)Verkehrsgewerkschaft GDBA (50,000)

Table 5. Trade unions
Union Affiliation Representational domain (group of workers represented) Bargaining units where the trade union is present

United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di)

Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB)

All categories

Whole public sector

Various affiliates to the dbb

see above for details

German Civil Service Federation (dbb)

All categories

Whole public sector





Sectoral union density




Please provide information on the diffusion within the central government sector of craft unions, professional unions, or unions which are not affiliated to peak associations.

Apart from ver.di and the various affiliates of the dbb there is also the German Association of Judges (Deutscher Richterbund) which, however, is not involved in collective bargaining. There is also an association for detectives in the public service (Bund Deutscher Kriminalbeamter, BDK) which is so far also not relevant in collective bargaining.

Are there any formal procedures or rules which aim to assess the representativeness of the various unions? If yes, please, briefly illustrate the content of such procedures or rules. Do these procedures or rules affect the access of the various unions to trade union prerogatives or to the bargaining table? If yes, please specify such effects and any possible limitations.


5. Employer representation

Please provide information on:

Who does represent the central government at the bargaining table? Are there specific independent bodies, such as agencies, or negotiations are carried out under the responsibility of political actors, such as ministers?If negotiations are carried out by specific independent bodies, please indicate how they are organised. In particular, specify whether there are guidelines or other directives set by political actors and how the tasks of the independent bodies are carried out. For instance, negotiations have to follow specific stages?If negotiations are carried under the direct responsibility of political actors, please indicate how they are organised. For instance, do negotiations take place under the responsibility of a single ministry, for instance the Finance Ministry, or are they carried out by a delegation or in a different way?

Negotiations on behalf of central government are led by the minister of the interior who also represents the employers side at the bargaining table.

Do collective agreements in the central government sector have to pass an ex-post “validation” procedure, for instance to certify their compliance with budget constraints? If present, please briefly illustrate such procedure and the consequences of failure to pass it.


6. Collective bargaining and conflict in central government

Please provide information on:

The structure of collective bargaining and, in particular, the number and scope of bargaining units, both at central (national) and decentralised (workplace and territorial) levels.

See answer on section 3.

The duration of agreements and the presence and content of peace obligations.

Collective agreements vary in duration depending on the bargaining outcome (see above for the TvÖD) and according to the Collective Agreements Act (Tarifvertragsgesetzt) there is a peace obligation during the duration of the agreement.

The main issues of collective bargaining by referring to the latest renewals.

Pay and working-time

Levels and recent trends in conflict.

The latest major strike affecting central administration was in 1992. Since there are no distinct negotiations for central government conflict is embedded in public sector negotiations in general.

The presence and main features of forms of regulation of labour conflict and collective dispute resolution procedures. Please indicate whether such rules are specific to the central government sector, or apply to the whole public sector, or are general and cover both public and private sectors.

There is no distinctive legal regulation for industrial conflicts in the public sector. The regulation of industrial conflict has been left to to the courts. Case-law has been developed by the Federal Labour Court (Bundesarbeitsgericht, BAG) in subsequent rulings. The most important legal principles governing industrial action are as follows:

  1. Industrial action must pursue an aim that can be regulated by collective agreement. Strikes and lock-outs are only lawful in the context of collective bargaining.
  2. Political or general strikes are outlawed. Secondary action may be legal under certain circumstances.
  3. Only unions have the right to call strike action. Strikes not recognised by a union are illegal; employees are not legally entitled to go on strike without the backing of a union.
  4. There is an obligation to maintain industrial peace for the duration of a collective agreement. During this peace obligation (Friedenspflicht) neither strike nor lock-out are allowed as a means to pursue issues laid down in the collective agreement.

The bargaining parties in the public sector agreed in 2002 on a joint dispute resolution procedure. In case of the failure of negotiations both sides can call to start this procedure but there is no obligation to accept its final outcome. During the joint dispute resolution there is a peace obligation.

7. Commentary by the NC

Industrial relations at the federal level are shaped by the fact that a considerable number of employees (career public servants) are excluded from collective bargaining and that all bargaining takes place between the federal government and the unions. Collective bargaining, therefore has always a certain political dimension. A feature which, however, applies also to negotiations at other levels of the public service.

The most controversial issue in the last years has been the question of the extension of working-time. Whereas the government could extend the standard weekly working time of federal public servants by law this issue had to be negotiated for public employees and the unions agreed to a compromise on the introduction of a uniform 39-hour-week which meant an extension of half an hour for employees in western Germany but also a reduction by one hour for eastern German employees.

Industrial relations have been very stable in the past and there have been only two major national strikes which affected central government: in 1974 and 1992. It remains to be seen whether industrial relations become more conflictory in the future.

Heiner Dribbusch, Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI

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