Unions push for minimum wage in the postal sector

At the end of October 2007, the Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railways released recent figures on the number of employees working in the postal sector. The publication of such figures once again sparked a fierce debate among the social partners on the introduction of minimum wages in the sector. However, the Social Democratic Party and the Confederation of German Trade Unions strongly call for minimum wages to be introduced.

On 31 October 2007, the Federal Network Agency for Electricity, Gas, Telecommunications, Post and Railways (Bundesnetzagentur) issued a press release (in German) providing information on the number of employees in the postal sector. The preliminary results of its survey show that the former monopoly holder, Deutsche Post AG, employs 162,938 persons. Of these workers, 122,437 work as drivers, delivery personnel or sorters. Deutsche Post’s competitors employ around 40,000 workers. This latter figure is expected to rise, since 200 questionnaires have yet to be returned.

Background

In August 2007, the Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) and its coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union, CDU), reached an agreement on introducing minimum wages in the postal sector. The coalition partners agreed to declare the current collective agreement on minimum wages concluded by the Postal Services Employers’ Association (Arbeitgeberverband Postdienste e.V., AGV Postdienste) and the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) as generally binding for the whole sector. Moreover, it was agreed that the details of this move would be discussed in the autumn of 2007.

However, as a result of the newly released figures from the Federal Network Agency, certain groups within CDU reconsidered the introduction of minimum wages in the postal sector. CDU representatives called into question the assertion that those companies who are bound by the aforementioned collective wage agreement would employ 50% of all workers in the postal sector. In fact, the figures indicate that employers bound by the current framework agreement on minimum wages would not employ 50% of all employees in the sector. The latter element is considered to be a criterion to declare collective agreements as generally binding for a whole sector. However, based on the figures presented, CDU argues that the agreement on minimum wages should not be declared generally binding for the entire postal sector.

In this case, calculating the number of workers in the sector is considered to be crucial, because two out of the three possible legislative procedures to introduce minimum wages are linked to collective bargaining coverage in the sector.

Legal options to introduce minimum wages

From a legislative point of view, there are three possible ways to introduce minimum wages.

  1. Section 5 of the 1949 Collective Bargaining Act (Tarifvertragsgesetz, TVG) stipulates that employer organisations and trade unions can conclude a collective agreement on minimum wages (DE9905200F). The social partners have to bring this collective agreement on minimum wages before the committee on collective bargaining (Tarifausschuss). This committee consists of three trade union and three employer representatives from different economic sectors. If a minimum wage is to be introduced by this procedure, at least four of the six committee members must vote in favour of it. Only after a collective agreement has been approved in this way, it can be declared generally binding for the whole sector. Social partners in all economic sectors can make use of this option as long as the employers who are bound by the terms and conditions of the sectoral collective agreement employ at least 50% of all employees in the sector. This latter criterion can be disregarded in cases in which matters of public concern are affected.
  2. The 1996 Posted Workers Act (Arbeitnehmer-Entsendegesetz, AEntG) enables the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (Bundesministerium für Arbeit und Soziales, BMAS) to extend an already generally binding collective (wage) agreement to the whole sector (DE0703049I, DE0609049I, DE0306207T). However, the minimum wages have to be agreed on independently by the social partners through collective wage agreements in advance of their extension to the whole sector.
  3. The 1952 Act on Minimum Working Standards (Mindestarbeitsbedingungsgesetz, MiArbG) stipulates that a committee can recommend the introduction of minimum wages to the government. The government then has the option of adopting this recommendation.

The first two options either directly or indirectly link the introduction of minimum wages to a figure of 50% of employees being covered by a collective agreement in the relevant sector.

After heated debates in the political arena, the coalition partners failed to reach an agreement on the introduction of minimum wages in the postal sector in the autumn of 2007. The SPD Chair, Kurt Beck, accused CDU of not keeping its word. In a recent news article (in German), SPD reiterated its support for the introduction of minimum wages in the postal sector, as agreed by the government at a special cabinet meeting in Meseberg in the state of Saxony-Anhalt on 23–24 August 2007. CDU has, however, countered its coalition partner’s reproach by stating that it had only agreed to declare the collective agreement on minimum wages concluded by AGV Postdienste and ver.di as generally binding if the agreement met the precondition stipulated by the Collective Bargaining Act that 50% of employees were covered by the collective agreement. This latter condition would not be fulfilled by the relevant collective agreement. Finally, in a subsequent press statement (in German), CDU called on trade unions and employer organisations working in the postal sector to become proactive.

However, the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) recently presented a proposal that would even allow for the introduction of minimum wages in the postal sector without necessarily considering the coverage rates of the sectoral collective agreements.

Position of social partners

In general, DGB supports the introduction of minimum wages in the postal sector. DGB declared that minimum wages in the postal sector could be introduced through the Posted Workers’ Act, as the government had already agreed to this in Meseberg in August 2007. According to an article (in German) by DGB, the 50% quota concerning the collective bargaining coverage rate would, in this case, become insignificant.

Another option for the introduction of minimum wages in the postal sector is contained within DGB’s latest proposal to revise the 1952 Act on Minimum Working Standards. The proposal seeks to establish a steering committee that would, on the whole, be comprised of trade union and employer representatives. The social partners would apply for a recommendation for minimum wages to be introduced or for minimum working standards to be established in their sector. The committee would, in turn, stipulate preconditions or define relevant criteria to be considered in the introduction of any minimum wages or the establishment of minimum working standards in any sector under consideration. On the basis of such criteria, the committee would develop a recommendation for presentation to the government.

DGB’s proposal, furthermore, sets out that – if the steering committee is not able to provide a recommendation – BMAS should be entitled to establish an expert committee to deal with the issue. The expert committee could also be set up immediately, if the social partners jointly agreed to put forward a recommendation. However, the government would still have the final say in approving or rejecting the recommendation of either committee.

With regard to the postal sector, either the steering or the expert committee could also recommend the introduction of minimum wages without having to adhere to the requirement that collective agreement coverage rates are at or above 50%.

The German Confederation of Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA), on the other hand, underlined in a statement to the press (in German) the importance of assessing the number of employees in the postal sector, as provided by the Federal Network Agency. The Chair of BDA, Dieter Hundt, stated that these figures indicated that the current framework agreement on minimum wages concluded by AGV Postdienste and ver.di fell short of an important criterion stipulated by the Collective Bargaining Act – that is, the 50% collective bargaining coverage criterion. Therefore, this collective agreement should not be extended to all postal operators in the sector. BDA stated that a possible solution could be based on another collective agreement that covers all the relevant social partners. The latter could be declared as generally binding for the whole sector via the Collective Bargaining Act.

It should be noted that, in September 2007, the Employers’ Association of the New Postal and Delivery Services (Arbeitgeberverband Neue Brief- und Zustelldienste, AGV neue BuZ) was set up. This new employer organisation stated that about 35 of its members are competing with Deutsche Post. As expected, AGV neue BuZ is trying to negotiate a collective agreement for its members.

Sandra Vogel, Cologne Institute for Economic Research (IW Köln)

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