First joint pay agreement for blue- and white-collar workers in printing

In April 1999, Germany's IG Medien trade union and the printing company Rombach Druck GmbH signed a company agreement introducing a new grading system which abolishes the old distinction between blue- and white-collar workers.

In the light of modern work organisation in many industries, the traditional distinction between blue-collar worker s (Arbeiter) and white-collar worker s (Angestellte) is becoming more and more anachronistic. Although the German trade unions have long argued for abolition of the distinction, different pay agreements still exist for blue- and white-collar workers in many collective bargaining areas. Of the "classic" manufacturing sectors, only in the chemicals industry have joint pay agreements been concluded since 1988. In metalworking, a number of pioneering companies introduced joint pay and grading systems some time ago - the machine-building company Vögele was the first to sign a joint pay agreement in 1983 - but the sectoral bargaining parties have been negotiating on the modernisation of pay and grading structures since the early 1990s, without being able to conclude an agreement so far.

In the printing industry, there have been no sector-level negotiations on a reform of pay agreements. Although the IG Medien trade union is very much in favour of modernisation, the Bundesverband Druck employers' association has not been ready to negotiate so far. The reasons have been partly to do with institutional difficulties: currently, collective wage agreements for blue-collar workers in the printing industry are concluded at national level by the national employers' association, while negotiations over salary agreements for white-collar workers are the autonomous responsibility of the regional employers' associations.

On 12 April 1999, however, IG Medien announced the conclusion of the printing industry's first joint pay agreement at Rombach Druck- und Verlagshaus GmbH & Co KG, a medium-sized company located in Freiburg/Breisgau with about 140 employees and an annual turnover of DEM 30 million. The main provision of this new company agreement is the introduction of a new grading system for all employees which abolishes the old distinction between white- and blue-collar workers. The new system contains nine different pay groups which are primarily based on the qualifications and job experiences of the employees and not - as in the old system - on job descriptions. To evaluate the new grading system and to resolve possible conflicts in the new grading of individual employees, the agreement provides for the creation of a joint "grading commission" (Eingruppierungskommission), composed of three representatives each from the employers' and the employees' side.

The new agreement at Rombach states that usually no employee should receive a lower grading within the new pay structure. According to the company's vice-managing director, Veronika Lehmann, about one-third of the workforce will receive a higher grading in the new system while a very few employees will receive a lower grading, but with some compensation payments from the company to ensure that no employee's remuneration will decrease.

The agreement has been welcomed by all sides. At a general works meeting, the Rombach workforce declared its strong support for the new grading system, while the works council stated that the introduction of the joint grading commission could be seen as a further step towards more "democracy at work". Rombach's managing director, Andreas Hodeige, expressed his hope that the new pay agreement would contribute to higher qualification levels, better motivation of the workforce and increases in productivity. Finally, the IG Medien chief negotiator, Sybille Stamm, sees the Rombach agreement as a "milestone" which could set a good example for a new branch-level collective agreement for the printing industry.

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