Industrial relations and social dialogue

Germany: Latest developments in working life Q3 2019

The future of employment in the automotive industry in Baden-Wuerttemberg, the involvement of trade unions in a climate action day and recommendations for raising job quality and wages in the elderly and healthcare sector are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Germany in the third quarter of 2019.

Uncertain future for automotive sector

Germany’s automotive sector is under pressure as the United States threatens to impose tariffs on German cars and foreign competition is rising. Jobs have also been affected by digitalisation and the transition to e-mobility. On 16 September, Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, Minister of Economic Affairs, Labour and Housing of Baden-Wuerttemberg state (the core zone of the car industry), invited the regional social partners, the Federal Employment Agency (BA) and Baden-Württemberg’s state bank to a peak-level meeting on future prospects. In a joint declaration, the participants said that the economic situation is uncertain because while there is a strong risk of an economic downturn, the construction, social services and trade-related industries are still booming and labour shortages continue to pose problems, even in the automotive sector. [1]

To weather the upcoming challenges, the participants recommended that the federal government further facilitate short-term working measures and the uptake of further training measures during short-term working. In line with this, public investments in further training and retraining measures through the BA should be increased. To support businesses, the government should increase the amount of public investment in research and development activities and reduce bureaucratic burdens.

Trade unions take part in climate action day

In Germany, the relationship between the environmental movement and the trade unions has always been strained, particularly in the mining and energy sectors, but events in Q3 showed that this is changing.

On 20 September, prior to the UN Climate Action Summit 2019 in Chile, the Fridays for Future movement and civil society organisations called people to the streets to take part in a climate action day. The Trade Union for Agriculture, Construction and the Environment (IG BAU) and the youth organisations of IG Metall, the United Services Trade Union (ver.di) and the Food, Beverages and Catering Union (NGG) helped to coordinate the day. [2]

In addition, at the beginning of August, the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) stated that the trade unions agreed with Fridays for Future calling on the government to accelerate its efforts to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. [3] The DGB acknowledged that there is no alternative to a transition to a low-carbon economy, but insisted that the transition has to be socially sustainable and that no one should be left behind. [4] A package of ambitious climate policies combined with active structural policies could provide options for new and sustainable jobs, and for raising the quality of work. The confederation highlighted that the DGB is in discussions with Fridays for Future at various levels and that the trade unions will communicate with any environmentalists who are pursuing their objectives through democratic means. The DGB did not endorse the call for a ‘climate strike’ because, under law, trade unions cannot call for political strikes. For people wanting to take part in the climate action, the DGB recommended taking a day off work.

The climate action day on 20 September was an extraordinary one for Germany, both in terms of numbers (there were more than 1 million participants) and in terms of the level of cooperation between organisations. The future impact of this event remains to be seen. When the government made its climate policy package public on 24 September, organisations that had participated in the climate action day voiced their disappointment for various reasons and called for revisions.

Elderly care commission issues recommendations

The care sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in Germany, but also one of major public concern. The supply of inpatient care beds for the elderly is insufficient and care work is marked by a severe labour shortage. The industrial relations landscape is also fragmented and poorly developed in the growing private sector.

In June, a multistakeholder commission on health and elderly care (Konzertierte Aktion Pflege) released its recommendations on how to address the problems in these areas. The committee was set up by three federal ministers (for labour and social affairs; for health; and for family affairs, senior citizens, women and youth), and is composed of representatives from ministries, municipalities, occupational and business organisations, employer organisations and trade unions. In its recommendations, the commission states that there is need to improve the occupational safety and health of care workers and the application of risk assessments. There is also a need to improve the work–life balance and the provision of training for workers and managerial staff. To prevent work overload and overtime, an instrument for staff allocation is being developed in partnership with the trade unions. The new instrument is expected to be finalised by summer 2020 and its use will become mandatory.

The commission’s recommendations also include closing the wage gap between care workers in the east and west of Germany, and implementing binding minimum wages for various groups of care workers (only auxiliary care workers are currently covered by an extended minimum wage agreement). The minimum wages will be set either by the statutory sectoral pay commission – established some years ago to compensate for the lack of collective bargaining in the private care sector – or by the collective bargaining partners.

These recommendations, which are backed by Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, challenge the private employers who oppose sectoral collective bargaining. Pressure on such private employers has increased since late June, when a number of not-for-profit employers established a new employer organisation aimed at negotiating minimum wage agreements with the trade unions in the future. [5] Conflicts between the organisations are ongoing. In the meantime, Minister Spahn has increased efforts to recruit care workers from foreign countries and reached an agreement with the Government of Kosovo in this regard.



  1. ^ Gemeinsame Erklärung der Teilnehmerinnen und Teilnehmer des ‘Spitzengesprächs zur Konjunkturentwicklung‘ (2019), 16 September.
  2. ^ ver.di (2019), Gemeinsame Presseerklärung – Klimastreik: Gemeinsam für den Klimaschutz , 16 September.
  3. ^ IG Metall (2019), Fridays for Future , 20 September.
  4. ^ DGB (2019), Fridays for Future: Die Politik muss beim Klima aufs Tempo drücken , 7 August.
  5. ^ Arbeitgeberverband AWO Deutschland (2019), Für bessere Arbeitsbedingungen in der Pflege: Verbandsübergreifende Bundesvereinigung Arbeitgeber in der Pflegebranche (BVAP) gegründet , 14 June.

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