Public service employees agree new deal

Germany’s United Services Union and other unions in the public sector have signed a new deal covering two million public employees. The package includes a pay increase in three stages, but the unions failed to obtain a special increase to help employees in the lower wage scales. A compromise between unions and employers also meant a new agreement on paid leave. Employers felt that the deal was as much as they could afford, while the unions were broadly happy with the pay rise.

The united unions

On 30 March 2012, the United Services Union (ver.di), representatives of the federal government (Bundesregierung) and of the Municipal Employers’ Association (VKA) confirmed a package of collective agreements on pay and paid leave for federal and municipal employees. These cover those who work in federal institutions, local transport, utilities, hospitals, and teachers. The settlement followed several waves of warning strikes involving 300,000 public sector employees.

The German Civil Service Association (dbb), also signed the final package on behalf of its affiliates that deal with public sector employees.

Ver.di is the leading negotiator but the discussions also included the German Police Union (GdP) and the German Union of Education (GEW). Like ver.di, both are affiliated to the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB). The new agreements do not cover employees working in the public services of the federal states (Länder), who are covered by different agreements.

What was agreed

The deal covers a 24-month period until 28 February 2014. The main points are:

Pay

The pay agreement consists of three successive pay increases. Wages and salaries will rise by 3.5% backdated to 1 March 2012. A second increase of 1.4% will run from 1 January 2013, and a further increase of 1.4% from 1 August 2013. Wages for apprentices and trainees will increase by €50 from 1 March 2012 and a further €40 by August 2013. In 2012, public employees at airports will receive a one-off payment of €600 at larger airports and €200 at airports with less than five million passengers a year. Employers stood firm over union calls for better pay in the lower wage scales.

Paid leave

The agreement proposed three scales of paid leave; 26 days a year for employees under 30, 29 for those under 40 and 30 days for all others. On 20 March 2012 the Federal Labour Court (BAG) declared these provisions discriminatory and ruled that younger employees were entitled to the same paid leave as older workers. Employers immediately insisted on a renegotiation. From 1 January 2013 all employees will get 29 days a year and only those aged 55 years and over will get 30 days. Apprentices will get 27 days unless they do shift work in health care, in which case they will be entitled to 28 days’ paid leave in the second and third year of their apprenticeship. Part of the compromise is that in 2012 all employees get 30 days regardless of age.

Reactions to the agreement

The increases were welcomed in a press release (in German) by the Chair of ver.di, Frank Bsirske, particularly as the 2012 increase was likely to be above inflation. He regretted that employers had refused to agree to improved pay for those in the lower wage scales. The outcome was approved by 74% of ver.di members and 88% of GEW members who voted in consultation ballots.

On the employers’ side, the President of the VKA, Thomas Böhle, said that the outcome was at the limits of what was affordable for municipal employers, and the timescale of the agreement aided budget planning.

Heiner Dribbusch, Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI

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