New package of agreements signed in chemicals

In May 2003, a package of new collective agreements was concluded for the western and eastern German chemicals industry. A 13-month pay agreement provides for a flat-rate payment of EUR 40 for the first month, followed by a 2.6% increase. The sector's collective agreement on working time has been amended, while new agreements have been signed on further training and on increasing the number of apprenticeship and training places.

In May 2003 after only three rounds of talks, the Mining, Chemicals and Energy Industrial Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bergbau, Chemie, Energie, IG BCE) and the German Federation of Chemicals Employers' Associations (Bundesarbeitgeberverband Chemie, BAVC) signed a package of new collective agreements for the 580,000 or so employees in the German chemicals industry. The package includes: a new pay agreement; an amendment to the working time agreement; a new collective agreement on training; and a new agreement on increasing the number of apprenticeship and training places.

Pay increases

The new pay agreements apply from 1 May 2003 (in some bargaining regions, from June or July) and have a duration of 13 months. For the first month, they provide for a flat-rate payment of EUR 40. From the second month onwards, wages and salaries will increase by 2.6% in western Germany. In eastern Germany, where the collective agreements apply from 1 June, the 2.6% increase comes into effect in July 2003 and the flat-rate payment of EUR 40 will be paid in October 2003 together with an additional increase in wages and salaries of 2.8%, which was agreed in 2002 as part of a scheme gradually to adjust eastern pay to western levels (DE0205204F).

Under the new agreement, apprentices will receive a flat-rate payment of EUR 10 and an increase in their remuneration of 2.6%.

Individual working time accounts

The sector's framework collective agreement has been amended to allow the introduction of'long-term working time accounts' (Langzeitkonten) by means of voluntaryworks agreement s at establishment level. As defined by the new collective agreement, long-term working time accounts are time accounts (DE9803255F) which allow employees to save working time'credits' over a period longer than 12 months. The basic principle behind the new working time account is that employees are able to work longer hours than provided in the collective agreement, eg in the form of overtime, and thereby collect working time credits. This time saved may then be used for purposes such as early retirement, further training (see below) or extra leave. Employers must insure their employees' working time accounts against insolvency.

Agreement on further training

The new collective agreement on further training (Tarifvertrag zur Qualifizierung) provides a framework for voluntary works agreements on further training. It recommends the systematic planning of a wide range of training activities at company level, and calls for the special needs of different groups of employees, such as older employees, shiftworkers or parents, to be taken into account. The costs of further training are to be shared on a'fair' basis between employer and employee. The employee's contribution will usually be provided in the form of working time. For this purpose, employees may use time credits from their individual time account - the training agreement is thus linked with the establishment of long-term working time accounts (see above). In principle, the terms and conditions of further training are to be laid down in an individual agreement between employer and employee. In cases where no such agreement can be reached, employees have the right to demand leave for further training if they use working time credits for this purpose. The timing of the training has to be in line with the operational interests of the company. The bargaining parties have agreed to give advice on the further training on offer and to provide contacts to a training facilities network involving IG BCE, the chemicals industry employers' associations and companies.

'Future through training' agreement

In line with previous agreements to promote an increase in apprenticeship places and similar training at company level in chemicals (DE0004255F), the bargaining parties have agreed a collective agreement entitled'Future through training' ('Zukunft durch Ausbildung'). The sector's employers have thereby committed themselves to increasing the total number of apprenticeship and training places (Ausbildungsplätze) in western Germany by 1.7% in 2004. In December 2003, the bargaining parties will calculate the current number of contracts for apprenticeships, student trainees etc - including training places in institutions which train on behalf of companies in the chemicals industry - and this figure will then form the basis for the 1.7% increase in training places. In eastern Germany, the commitment is to provide at least 690 training places in 2004 - ie the number provided in 2002 and 2003. Further increases in the number of training places will be negotiated between the parties in forthcoming pay bargaining rounds. The'Future through training' agreement runs until 31 December 2007.

An'opening clause' in the agreement allows works councils and individual employers to agree on remuneration for apprentices or trainees which deviates from that set in the sectoral collective agreement. This, however, applies only to apprentices or trainees who are being trained in ajoint training system (Ausbildungsverbund) on behalf of employers which are not party to the chemicals industry collective agreement. This might be the case if, for example, an apprentice is trained at a chemicals company's training centre, but is employed by a service company which is covered by a different collective agreement. Use of the opening clause requires the approval of the sectoral bargaining parties.

The implementation of this agreement will be supported by'appropriate measures' and will be coordinated at federal level.

Reactions of bargaining parties

IG BCE had entered the 2003 bargaining round without a specific pay demand, stating only that it would seek an increase which would take into account the inflation rate and the increase in productivity in the industry. The union is satisfied with the outcome of the bargaining round. Its chief negotiator, Werner Bischoff, considers the agreed pay increase a good compromise and is particularly proud of the provision which will increase the number of apprenticeship and training places.

BAVC regards the agreed pay increase as acceptable for the industry. Its chief negotiator, Jürgen Maaß, believes that the new package of collective agreements on training, together with the provisions on long-term working time accounts, will help to sustain the competitiveness of the German chemicals industry.

Commentary

At a time when industrial relations in many other sectors seem to have become much more conflictual (DE0307204F), a notable feature of collective bargaining in chemicals remains the lack of confrontation.

As in 2002, chemicals was the first major sector to conclude new agreements in the 2003 bargaining round (the January 2003 collective agreement in the public sector -DE0301204F- should be seen as the last in the 2002 bargaining round). The pace-setting effect of the agreement on pay is somewhat diminished by the fact that a number of other sectors had already agreed on their 2003 pay increase in the 2002 bargaining round. In comparison with other collectively agreed pay increases for 2003, however, the 2.6% agreed in chemicals at the upper end of the scale.

This is the first time that a collective agreement to increase apprenticeship and training places has been signed in the private sector. Whether other sectors will follow this example remains to be seen, as does the extent to which chemicals employers will fulfil their commitments in this area in 2004. (Heiner Dribbusch, Institute for Economic and Social Research, WSI)

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