New collectively agreed minimum wage for industrial cleaners

In October 2009, following 10 days of strike action, the bargaining parties in the industrial cleaning sector reached a new collective agreement on pay. The agreement covers some 860,000 workers. It provides for general pay increases in January 2010 and 2011, resulting in minimum hourly wage rates of €8.55 in western Germany and €7.00 in eastern Germany. Both parties want the government to extend these agreed minimum wage rates to all employers in the sector.

On 29 October 2009, following 10 days of strike action, the Trade Union for Building, Forestry, Agriculture and the Environment (Industriegewerkschaft Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt, IG BAU) and the Association of the Federal Guild of Cleaning Building Service Contractors (Bundesinnungsverband des Gebäudereiniger-Handwerks, BIV) agreed on a new collective agreement on pay and new minimum wage provisions for the industrial cleaning sector.

Pay provisions

Following three so-called ‘zero months’ with no pay increases in October, November and December 2009, industrial cleaners will receive a general wage increase with effect from 1 January 2010 of 3.1% in western Germany and 3.8% in eastern Germany. On 1 January 2011, a further general wage increase of 1.8% and 2.5%, respectively, will follow. The agreement will be valid until 31 December 2011.

The collective agreement also sets new minimum hourly wages for industrial cleaners with effect from 1 January 2010 at €8.40 in western Germany and €6.83 in eastern Germany. On 1 January 2011, the rates will rise to €8.55 and €7.00, respectively.

The settlement covers some 860,000 workers in the industrial cleaning and related building services sector such as, for example, window cleaners or caretakers. More than 50% of workers are employed in marginal part-time jobs not paying more than €400 a month, which is the threshold for social security contributions. According to trade union estimates, some 450,000 employees in the industry are cleaners and the vast majority of them are women.

Events leading to strike action

Collectively agreed minimum wages in the cleaning industry date back to 2004. In 2003, following the introduction of collectively agreed wages for temporary agency workers (DE0308203F), employers had threatened to switch to employing temporary agency workers if IG BAU would not agree to lower wages for building cleaners. The trade union agreed under the condition that the new lowered wages would be declared generally binding by the federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, BMAS) in 2004. Both parties then demanded that these wage levels be further extended to cover all industrial cleaners whether employed by domestic or foreign companies under the Posted Workers Act (Arbeitnehmer-Entsendegesetz, AEntG). This was finally implemented in 2007 (DE0609049I, DE0703049I). However, the collective agreement on which the extension was based expired on 30 September 2009 and with it the general extension under the Posted Workers Act.

As the bargaining parties were unable to reach a new agreement before 30 September, some companies tried to take advantage of this situation by employing new staff with individual employment contracts offering wages up to 30% below the expired minimum wages of €8.15 in western Germany and €6.58 in eastern Germany.

When the negotiations reached deadlock, IG BAU called a ballot on strike action which received the approval of 96.7% of its members. On 20 October 2009, the trade union started strike action. The settlement was then approved by 94.4% of members.

Reactions of bargaining parties

The BIV Chief Negotiator, Bernd Jake, welcomed the outcome of the negotiations, as did the Chair of IG BAU, Klaus Wiesehügel. Mr Wiesehügel highlighted that the final outcome was well above the last offer made by employers before the strike. Both bargaining parties urged the government to declare the collectively agreed minimum wages in industrial cleaning generally binding under the Posted Workers Act as soon as possible.

Commentary

The strike by industrial cleaners was the first national strike in the industry. It was largely motivated by the concern of cleaners that their already low wages would be increasingly threatened by wage dumping if no new minimum wage provisions were reached. When it was revealed that some employers had already started to offer new employment contracts providing for hourly wage rates of less than €5, this further served to gain support for the strike not only among IG BAU members but also among non-unionised workers. It remains to be seen whether the new coalition government of conservatives and liberals (DE0910029I), which is rather critical towards minimum wages, will accept the joint demand of the bargaining parties and, under the Posted Workers Act, extend the new minimum wages to all employers in the industrial cleaning and related building services sector.

Heiner Dribbusch, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

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