Jenoptik agreements provoke workforce protests

In March 1999, Germany's small Christian Metalworkers' Union (CGM) concluded new company agreements at the Jenoptik technology company which supersede previous agreements signed by IG Metall, the main metalworkers' trade union. While Jenoptik management praised the new working time flexibility and performance-related payments brought by the agreements, IG Metall and a large majority of the workforce asked the company to cancel them.

On 6 March 1999, the minority Christian Metalworkers' Union (Christliche Gewerkschaft Metall, CGM) and the management of Jenoptik AG signed new company agreements (Haustarifverträge) for about 800 employees at the company's east German sites in Jena. Emerging from the old Carl Zeiss firm, Jenoptik AG is today the largest east German technology corporation and operates in the fields of clean systems, telecommunications and photonics technologies. The new CGM company agreements supersede previous company agreements concluded with IG Metall, the main metalworkers' trade union, in 1996, after the company had left the east German metalworking employers' association and thereby refused to be covered by the relevant branch-level collective agreements.

The main provisions of the new company agreement s are far-reaching flexibilisation of working time and the introduction of a new grading system and performance-related pay systems. Regarding working time, the CGM agreement provides for a new annual working time "corridor" of between 1,830 hours (which is equivalent to a 35-hour week) and 2,300 hours (equivalent to a 44-hour week). Actual working time arrangements should be determined by works agreement s at plant level between management and the works council. The duration of working time can also differ between Jenoptik plants, departments or working and project groups. The old IG Metall agreement prescribed a 38 hour-week, while up to 13% of the workforce were allowed to work up to 40 hours per week.

Regarding wages, the new CGM company agreement establishes a new single grading system which should replace the old separate grading systems for blue- and white-collar workers. Furthermore, the agreement introduces two performance-related pay components: the first is related to individual performance and depends on the extent to which an employee fulfil his or her annual target; while the second depends on overall company performance. In contrast to the old IG Metall agreement, the new CGM agreement provides for no Christmas and holiday bonuses.

While CGM and Jenoptik management praised the new company agreements as "breaking new ground in collective bargaining", IG Metall called it an "agreement of sheer kindness" (Gefälligkeitstarif) to the employers, which contains many changes for the worse for the employees, regarding working time and payments. In the "worst case scenario", the new CGM agreement could lead to an extension from a 38- to a 44-hour week. The introduction of performance-related pay components, however, makes it difficult to establish whether the old or new agreements would give the employees more take-home pay.

IG Metall see the small CGM more as a "yellow union", which has neither the membership nor the financial power to act as a real trade union (DE9901195N). According to its own information, CGM has only between 10 and 15 members at Jenoptik, for example, while more than 500 of the 800 employees are members of IG Metall. Nevertheless, in recent years, CGM has been able to conclude a number of collective agreements, in particular in smaller east German metalworking trade companies. The deals at Jenoptik are the first collective agreements signed by the CGM in a larger company.

On 19 March 1999, after a general works meeting at Jenoptik, the works council and a large majority of the workforce organised a demonstration through the city of Jena demanding that Jenoptik management cancel the CGM agreement and negotiate with those trade unions "which are regarded as legitimate by the workers," such as IG Metall and the German White-Collar Workers' Union (Deutsche Angestelltengewerkschaft, DAG). On 24 March 1999 Jenoptik management met for joint talks with representatives of IG Metall and DAG which, however, were unable to solve the conflict. While the chair of Jenoptik, the former CDU president of Baden-Würtemberg, Lothar Späth, said that the company wanted to make use of the new CGM agreements, IG Metall announced that it would continue its protests against them.

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