New collective agreement concluded in insurance sector

In July 2011, German social partners in the private insurance industry signed a collective agreement affecting 160,000 office employees in the sector. After four rounds of talks and strike action, the Employers Association for Insurance Companies and the United Services Union agreed to a staggered wage increase totalling 5.2% and a lump sum payment of €350. Employers say they can only just afford the deal, while the union stresses it has prevented a fall in standards.

Background

In July 2011, the Employers Association for Insurance Companies in Germany (AGV) and the United Services Union (ver.di) signed a new collective agreement for the insurance industry, affecting around 160,000 office employees. Negotiations were accompanied by several token strikes. According to a press release (in German) by ver.di, in June and July 2011 around 10,000 and 7,700 insurance employees respectively took part in industrial action.

On 29 March 2011, the first collective bargaining round was launched. Ver.di called for a wage increase of 6% or at least €150 more per month for each employee. The employers initially rejected this and made no counter-offer. However, in the next bargaining round AGV called, among other things, for a change in the pay grade system and for companies to be able to conclude successive fixed-term contracts without objective justifications (sachgrundlose Befristung) for four years, instead of the current two years (see Tarif-Nachrichten, Ausgabe 2/2011). After four bargaining rounds, the social partners finally reached a compromise on 22 July 2011.

Content and scope of the new agreement

The new collective wage agreement (in German) detailed by AGV on their website, was concluded for a period of 24 months and expires on 31 March 2013. The social partners have agreed to a staggered wage increase. The first increase of 3% will take effect from 1 September 2011. The second, of 2.2%, will be introduced on 1 October 2012.

In addition, AGV and ver.di negotiated a lump-sum payment of €350 to be paid in August 2011, although employees grouped in the lower wage categories A, B and I, II, will receive a higher one-off payment of €450. The yearly pay of vocational trainees in the insurance industry will be increased by €25 on 1 September 2011 and again by the same amount on 1 October 2012.

AGV and ver.di also extended the existing agreements on partial retirement (Alterteilzeitabkommen) and on protection where restructuring measures are taken (Rationalisierungschutzabkommen). The agreement on the ‘working time corridor’ (Arbeitszeitkorridor) in the sector was also renewed. This allows for the reduction or extension of working time in insurance companies within certain limits. In order to use this option, social partners at the establishment level must first negotiate a works agreement on the issue.

All three agreements run until 31 December 2013. However, the AGV and ver.di agreed to commence new talks on the industry’s current framework agreement on January 2012.

Views of the social partners

On 22 July 2011, Josef Beutelmann, Chair of AGV and its chief negotiator, said that the compromise was ‘just bearable for the industry’. Ver.di, however, stated in a document (in German, 330KB PDF) issued in July 2011 that the fight for the new deal ‘had paid off’. While the wage increase and the lump sum payments mean higher actual earnings for employees, the union has stressed that it has prevented a deterioration of collectively agreed standards.

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

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