IG Metall seeks collective agreement on further training

In March 2001, negotiations began over a new general agreement on pay grades for the metalworking industry in Germany's Baden Württemberg region. With pay increases themselves not due to be renegotiated until spring 2002, the IG Metall metalworkers' trade union is focusing on more qualitative issues, and especially an extension of company-level further training. It seeks, as part of a comprehensive programme for the improvement of working conditions, to make training available to the entire workforce (ending the widespread exclusion of low-skilled and older workers) and to include binding rules on training entitlements in the collective agreement. If IG Metall is successful in Baden Württemberg, it will extend its new strategy throughout the country.

On 3 April 2001, representatives of the metalworking employers' organisation for the district of Baden Württemberg (Südwestmetall) and the IG Metall metalworkers' trade union met for a first round of negotiations over a revision of the sector's general agreement on pay grades (Lohn- und Gehaltsrahmentarifvertrag). While the current wage agreement for the metalworking industry is not due to expire until spring 2002 (DE0004255F), the union is now putting a number of more qualitative issues on its bargaining agenda. In particular, IG Metall is demanding an extension of company-level training and a right for workers, particularly older and low-skilled workers, to upgrade their skills.

This demand follows a campaign entitled "gute Arbeit" ("decent work") conducted by IG Metall's Baden-Württemberg district. At the centre of the campaign were the results of a recent investigation of the quality of working life, and in particular of aspects of work-related stress and occupational diseases. The survey was mainly conducted by the union's local offices and, according to IG Metall, several thousand workers in some 400 companies participated. Among other problems, workers reported increasing pressure to work overtime, a decrease in opportunities to talk to co-workers, and an increase in work-related health problems. In reaction to these findings, the IG Metall regional bargaining commission drafted a comprehensive programme aimed at relieving the problems. The programme's major goals are to

  • extend the rights of workers and works councils to influence the pace of work;
  • protect employees with disabilities;
  • provide workers with individual entitlements to skill upgrading and training; and
  • provide equal training opportunities for all employees within a company.

In a first move to follow up this programme, IG Metall gave notice to terminate the metalworking sector's general agreement on pay grades and sought negotiations to include a number of training entitlements in the agreement, targeting in particular those workers who have long been excluded from further training.

New focus on training as a bargaining issue

IG Metall's new focus on training comes at a time when many companies consider a sound skills base and lifelong learning to be a major precondition for staying competitive. Although this subject is gaining importance, unions as well as works councils are, however, excluded when it comes to determining the rules for company-level training. According to a recent survey conducted by the Institute for Economic and Social Research (Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut, WSI) in collaboration with the University of Duisburg, further training measures are widespread. Some 72% of all establishments surveyed reported having conducted training activities during the past three years and an average of 42% of all employees had participated. However, as the table below indicates, training remains mostly at the discretion of the companies' management. While works agreement s and semi-formal works agreements on training are quite common among medium-sized and large companies, the large number of small companies tend not to have any agreed rules, either written or unwritten.

Determinants of company-level training (% of companies)
No. of workers employed by company
Basis of training 19 or less 20-199 200-499 500 All
Collective agreement and works agreement 3 4 7 13 3
Collective agreement 5 4 8 8 5
Works agreement 6 11 15 26 7
Semi-formal works agreement 4 16 21 20 6
Individual contract of employment 2 2 3 3 2
Informal agreement 5 9 7 6 5
No rules or agreement 74 54 38 23 71

Source: WSI/University of Duisburg company survey 2000.

According to the same survey, 66% of all cases of training had been unilaterally initiated by management, while the parties to the relevant collective agreement initiated training in only 10% of cases.

Thus, the negotiations in Baden Württemberg are an attempt by IG Metall to enter somewhat uncharted waters. According to a statement by Berthold Huber, head of the IG Metall Baden Württemberg district organisation, further training is too important to leave it to be unilaterally decided by the employers. Consequently, the list of demands developed by the bargaining commission appears to be ambitious. Among other points, the list includes the following:

  • each worker should have an individual training plan to determine future training measures,
  • at the ages of 40 and 50, workers should be entitled to participate in three months of off-the-job training to upgrade their general knowledge;
  • after working for seven years or more at a workplace with work-cycle times of five minutes or less, employees should be entitled to skill upgrading;
  • management and works councils should be required to develop special training programmes for those workers without any formal qualifications; and
  • employees should be allowed to switch to part-time work or to take leave of absence for purposes of further training.

According to Klaus Zwickel, national president of IG Metall, the union plans to extend this new bargaining strategy to other districts if the Baden-Württemberg district is successful.

Employers' responses

At a general level, employers share the union's view that issues of training and skill upgrading are important to keep German companies competitive, as well as to fight unemployment. In a March 2001 joint statement from the tripartite national Alliance for Jobs (Bündnis für Arbeit), German employers have agreed to support lifelong training by way of contributing to the costs of qualification and by allowing working time to be used for training (DE0103213F). However, according to a statement by Otmar Zwiebelhofer, president of Südwestmetall, IG Metall's recent demands have gone much too far. In particular, employers strongly resist any attempts to define binding rules which would require companies to bear training-related expenses. While companies' investment in training is substantial, reaching an impressive DEM 7 billion in 1998, employers insist on deciding for themselves how to spend this money. According to Mr Zwiebelhofer, the Works Constitution Act as well as several collective agreements already give workers' representatives a say in the field of training, so an extension of these rights would be excessive.

Commentary

In terms of governance structures as well as participation, there are two competing models of training in Germany. On the one side there is the "high-road" model of a regulated, so-called "dual", system of initial vocational education (DE9704107F). In this system, the costs of vocational training are split between apprentices, companies and the state, while training schedules and curricula are negotiated between the state, unions and employers. In addition, detailed rules for conducting the training are determined by law, executive orders, and collective agreements. By contrast, there are few binding rules for further training at the company level. In this "low-road" model, there are only few quality standards and opportunities to receive universally accepted training certificates, and in most cases employers develop rules for eligibility unilaterally. In addition, it is often not clear who is to bear the costs of training.

As it is in line with the current proclaimed reorientation towards a lifelong learning approach, the low-road further training model is scheduled to gain strength, and it seems to be consistent for organised labour to strive for the introduction of more transparent standards. Because unions are in danger of losing control over one of the most important aspects of working life, there is more at stake than just a side-issue in collective bargaining. In this sense, a new collective agreement on further training is not just aimed at generating more investment in employees' skills, but might also be an investment in the unions' own future. (Martin Behrens, Institute for Economic and Social Research, WSI)

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