Local agreement regulates employee exchanges among metalworking companies

In November 2003, a local collective agreement was concluded in the Bielefeld area of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, which allows for the temporary exchange of employees among 12 metalworking companies. The agreement, one of the first of its kind, may serve as a model for similar deals elsewhere in the metalworking industry.

On 21 November 2003, the German Metalworkers' Union (Industriegewerkschaft Metall, IG Metall) in the Bielefeld area and the local metalworking industry employers' association (Unternehmerverband der Metallindustrie Bielefeld) concluded a local collective agreement which allows for the temporary exchange of employees among 12 companies in the area. The collective agreement, the first of its kind in the major western German bargaining area of North Rhine-Westphalia, follows a similar local accord concluded for three metalworking companies in the eastern German region of Chemnitz earlier in 2003.

The new collective agreement for Bielefeld, which will apply from 1 December 2003, covers some 6,500 workers employed by 12 companies in the local metalworking industry. The agreement allows companies temporarily to hire employees from other companies covered by the agreement. The employees who are hired out remain on the payroll of the company by which they were originally employed. They continue to receive their regular wages or salaries and all rights and obligations resulting from their original employment contract are safeguarded. The hiring-out is voluntary, in that the consent of the employee is mandatory. The payments for the exchange of the employees concerned is decided among the companies concerned.

The bargaining parties identify advantages of the deal for both the companies concerned and the employees. The hiring company avoids having to pay a temporary work agency and may be in a better position to find employees with specific qualifications required in metalworking. The company which hires out the workers may be in a position to avoid short-time working (Kurzarbeit) - ie a temporary reduction of working time necessitated by a lack of orders. Finally, the employees themselves may be more willing to be hired out than having to suffer the loss of income involved in short-time work.

The chair of the IG Metall organisation in Bielefeld, Harry Dominik, said that although the collective agreement was not a model designed to overcome a structural crisis, the exchange of personnel could be a tool for companies to avoid short-time working or redundancies in times of temporary shortages of orders.

The regional chair of IG Metall in North Rhine-Westphalia, Peter Gasse, stated that the collective agreement would provide additional job security and would therefore act as a model for other regions. The president of the regional metalworking employers' association (Verband der Metall- und Elektro-Industrie in Nordrhein Westfalen), Michael Jäger, is said to be in favour of concluding this kind of collective agreement but, each such deal should be adapted to the special features of the areas concerned.

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