New collective agreements in printing

Under a new collective agreement, wages for 130,000 manual workers in the German printing industry will increase by about 1.5% in 1997.

On 6 February 1997, the Bundesverband Druck employers' association and the Industriegewerkschaft Medien trade union signed two new nationwide collective agreements for the 130,000 manual workers in the German printing industry. The first agreement covers the general developments of wages, and the second agreement is a renewal of the sector's general framework agreement on employment conditions (Manteltarifvertrag).

The negotiations in the printing industry started at the end of October 1996 and took place in an atmosphere of some political controversy. The employers demanded further cost reductions, plus the devolution of more competence for determining certain employment conditions to company level. It was the central aim of the trade union to safeguard 100% sick pay in the collective agreement in the light of the new law, introduced in autumn 1996, allowing a reduction of sick pay to 80% of previous pay.

After the expiry of the peace obligation (Friedenspflicht), which forbids the bargaining parties to take industrial action for the duration of a binding agreement, IG Medien organised several warning strike s with the participation of more than 20,000 employees from about 300 printing works. In German collective bargaining, a warning strike denotes a brief stoppage of work of fixed duration (usually a few hours) to put pressure on ongoing negotiations, and to demonstrate the union's capability of organising further open-ended strike action.

The social partners were finally able to find a compromise which has gains and losses for both sides. Firstly, they reached a wage agreement which foresees an increase of wages for manual workers about 1.5% from 1 April 1997 for a one-year term. This follows the general tendency of very moderate wage increases seen in German agreements in 1996 and early 1997. Secondly, they renewed the framework agreement for a term of four years, introducing several new provisions concerning additional payments, working time and work organisation. The most important provisions are as follows:

  • 100% sick pay during the first six weeks of sickness. Sick pay will be calculated as the average income of the last three months before sickness, excluding overtime payments and bonuses;
  • an additional top-up of state sickness benefits between the sixth week and the third month of sickness, as a compensation for the reduction of statutory sickness benefits from 80% to 70% of previous pay;
  • a reduction of the annual bonus (Christmas payment) from 100% to 95% of an average monthly wage;
  • a "hardship clause" for small companies with up to 35 employees. With the permission of the works council these small companies may, once every four years, reduce annual bonuses to 60%. However, the companies have to agree not to create redundancies during the year concerned;
  • an "opening clause" allowing companies and the works council to conclude, voluntarily, a works agreement to lengthen regular working time on Saturday for the production of newspapers, if there are cogent economic reasons for this. In such cases, the works agreement must ensure that regular working time on Saturdays ends at 15.00. In the case of three or more shifts, working time must end at 23.00. Individual working time on Saturdays may not exceed eight hours. Furthermore, each employee has the right to refuse regular Saturday work for personal reasons, and suffer no disadvantages because of this decision; and
  • an additional opening clause for the regular staff of special printing machines.

With these agreements, both social partners in the printing industry have to make concessions, but, nevertheless, they see the results as a firm step towards stabilising the central collective bargaining system (Flächentarfvertrag).

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