Alliance for Jobs agrees joint statement on training
In March 2001, leading representatives of the German federal government, trade unions and employers' associations met officially for their seventh round of top-level talks within the national Alliance for Jobs, Training and Competitiveness. While participants agreed on a joint programme to improve the employment perspectives of older workers, as well as on an initiative for company-level training, they are still debating the impact of the Alliance on collective bargaining.
On 4 March 2001, leading representatives of the federal government, trade unions and employers' associations (see annex at the end of this record for details) met officially for their seventh round of top-level talks, chaired by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, within the national Alliance for Jobs, Training and Competitiveness (Bündnis für Arbeit, Ausbildung und Wettbewerbsfähigkeit). The Alliance was established in December 1998 as a new permanent tripartite arrangement at national level, involving various issue-related working groups as well as regular top-level talks between the leading representatives of all three parties (DE9812286N).
At the centre of the Alliance's March meeting were issues related to training. In addition, representatives of government, employers and unions agreed on measures which seek to improve employment perspectives of older workers. While participants were able to agree on a joint statement which provides the basis for several new initiatives and projects, employers resisted unions' demands for the introduction of definite rules for the reduction of overtime (DE0101201N).
Reduction of overtime
Prior to the Alliance's seventh meeting, Dieter Schulte, the national president of the German Trade Union Federation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) expressed his demands for more concrete rules for the reduction of overtime. In a statement to the press, Mr Schulte demanded a cut in overtime of 25%. According to DGB's own calculations, this measure would create about 250,000 new jobs and thus contribute to the further reduction of unemployment. While employers' representatives such as Dieter Hundt, the head of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der deutschen Arbeitgeberverbänds, BDA), did not generally dispute the goal of reducing overtime, employers are still resisting definite targets for overtime reduction on the grounds that formalised rules reduce companies' ability to adjust to changing market conditions more flexibly. Unable to solve this general controversy, the Alliance agreed on several measures which seek to reduce overtime without substantially limiting companies' business autonomy. Thus the parties to collective agreements, as well as company-level management and works councils, are asked to:
- reduce overtime by hiring new workers;
- implement more flexible working time policies - eg by introducing different types of working time accounts;
- increase the use of part-time employment;
- increase the use of fixed-term employment; and
- implement working time policies as a form of investment
Following a demand by the employers' representatives, participants also discussed the pending reform of the Works Constitution Act (DE0103221N). The Alliance, however, could not agree on a joint opinion so this point was not included in the final statement.
Improving employment perspectives for older workers
In a separate memorandum which accompanies the joint statement, participants in the Alliance for Jobs outlined a partial revision of earlier policies concerning early and partial retirement. While earlier programmes primarily focused on reducing the number of older employees in the workforce, the new initiative seeks to reduce unemployment within the ranks of older workers. According to the joint statement, this shift in the general policy is justified by two developments. First, due to declining unemployment, the parties to the Alliance for Jobs are now putting more emphasis on the changing demographic composition of German society. Second, large-scale early retirement creates social costs which society is increasingly unable to bear. To reduce unemployment among workers aged 50 and older, the Alliance agreed on the following measures:
- the Federal Employment Service (Bundesanstalt für Arbeit) will provide co-funding for job-related training in small and medium-sized companies with no more than 100 employees. Funding will be provided for up to four years;
- the age limit for employees to be eligible for certain types of wage subsidies (Eingliederungszuschüsse) will be reduced from 55 years to 50. In addition, payments will now be provided even when individual workers have a high risk of becoming long-term unemployed;
- companies and workers will be educated about the need for life-long learning; and
- new training courses will de developed at company level which fit the needs of older employees.
While the Federal Employment Service is at the centre of the initiatives which seek to raise the employability of older workers, the Alliance also agreed on several guidelines to raise the qualification level of the entire workforce, as follows.
Initiative for qualification and training
The main purpose of the new initiative for qualification and training agreed by the Alliance is to improve the employability of workers and in particular to provide equal opportunities for men and women. According to the joint statement by the Alliance, a more qualified workforce also contributes to improving the German economy's ability to innovate as well as its competitiveness. Thus, an improved skill base is also considered capable of fostering growth and employment. While earlier initiatives by the Alliance for Jobs focused on issues of vocational training (DE9907219F), the better placement of young persons seeking training (DE0001232F) and lifelong qualification (DE0007272F), the social partners are now focusing on initiatives to improve company-level training.
According to the joint statement, it is considered to be the responsibility of the parties to collective agreements to prepare the ground for life-long training. Through the introduction of long-term working time accounts and similar provisions employees should be encouraged to invest part of their working time credits for training purposes. In exchange, employers will be asked to contribute to the costs of qualification by allowing working time to be used for training. Up until now, German companies have spent around DEM 50 billion a year on further training but this money is channelled to only a small minority of workers. In particular workers aged 50 years and older, women, low-skilled and blue-collar workers rarely benefit from company-level training programmes. To improve the labour market prospects of these groups of employees, the employers and unions now seek to increase their participation in company-level training. The social partners also intend to restructure work organisation in a way which allows company-level actors to provide better opportunities for learning, and in addition, to provide all employees with basic computer skills.
Because transparent and comprehensive standards do not yet exist, participants in the Alliance for Jobs also agreed on a programme to improve the quality of company-level training. Among other measures, this programme includes the modernisation of rules for further training, as well as developing new tests to measure the quality of training.
About a week after the conclusion of the seventh top-level meeting, major participants were still debating to what extent the agreement will affect forthcoming negotiations over sectoral collective agreements. According to a public statement by Mr Hundt of BDA, the employers expect that the Alliance's agreement on training and earlier agreements on retirement anticipate negotiations scheduled for spring 2002 and thus prevent unions from exclusively focusing on wage increases. While trade unions consider collective bargaining, and in particular union demands, not to be an issue for top-level negotiations in the Alliance, Chancellor Schröder seems to take a different view. In a recent speech before high-ranking employers' representatives in Munich (at the Münchener Spitzengespräch der deutschen Wirtschaft 2001) he stated that the Alliance for Jobs will put collective bargaining on the agenda of its future meetings.
While employers were pleased by this statement, several union leaders voiced major concerns. Hubertus Schmoldt, president of the Mining, Chemicals and Energy Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie und Energie, IG BCE), argued that Schröder's statement is not very helpful at all and that his union is not prepared to accept collective bargaining guidelines from the Alliance for Jobs. Klaus Zwickel, national president of the IG Metall metalworkers' union even suggested initiating a joint meeting of all union presidents participating in the Alliance for Jobs to discuss this matter. Mr Zwickel also raised questions about the future of the Alliance.
At first glance, it appeared that 2001 would provide participants in the Alliance for Jobs with a unique opportunity. With major trade unions having already negotiated long-term agreements which are not up for renewal before 2002 (DE0007270F), it seemed that the pressure was taken off the Alliance for Jobs. In such an environment it would not have been expected that conflict would be carried over from the bargaining table to Chancellor Schröder's meeting room and vice versa. As it turned out, however, such "freedom from collective bargaining" is hard to maintain in the Alliance, since most of the subjects to be negotiated in the national forum are connected to collective bargaining. Despite the dispute about the interpretation of the results of top-level negotiations, as well as about the future agenda of the Alliance, the range of subjects discussed at the seventh meeting in March was quite impressive. Notwithstanding the long list of projects and initiatives which emerged as the result of the meeting, it still remains to be seen whether the top-level meeting will bear fruit or not. In particular, the decisions in the field of company-level training and employability of older workers still need to be activated by concrete action by the participants. While it is fair to predict that the federal state will face comparatively small problems in ordering the Federal Employment Service to change some rules for the funding of support for unemployed people, employers as well as unions still have much work to do. First of all, the social partners need to negotiate the terms and conditions for the sharing of the costs of training; and second, standards need to be defined for the content and quality of training as well as for eligibility. Most of this work will probably be done at the company or industry level rather than by the national Alliance for Jobs. (Martin Behrens, Institute for Economic and Social Research, WSI)
Annex: List of participants at 4 March 2001 meeting of the Alliance for Jobs
- Gerhard Schröder, Chancellor, Federal Republic of Germany.
- Walter Riester, Minister of Labour.
- Werner Müller, Minister of Economics
- Edelgard Bulmahn, Minister of Education and Research.
- Ulla Schmidt, Minister of Health.
- Frank Walther Steinmeier, state secretary.
- Heribert Zitzelberger state secretary.
- Michael Rogowski, head of the Confederation of German Industries (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Industrie, BDI)
- Dieter Hundt, head of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA).
- Dieter Philipp, president of the Central Association of German Crafts (Zentralverband des Deutschen Handwerks, ZDH).
- Ludwig Georg Braun, head of the German Association of Chambers of Commerce (Deutscher Industrie- und Handelstag, DIHT).
- Dieter Schulte, head of the German Federation of Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB).
- Klaus Zwickel, head of the German Metalworkers Union (IG Metall).
- Frank Bsirske, head of the Public Services, Transport and Traffic Union (Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr, ÖTV).
- Hubertus Schmoldt, head of the Mining, Chemicals and Energy Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie und Energie, IG BCE).
- Roland Issen, head of the German White-Collar Workers' Union (Deutsche Angestelltengewerkschaft, DAG).