New agreement after brief bargaining round in retail sector

In June 2009, the bargaining parties of the North Rhine-Westphalian retail trade sector concluded a collective agreement that serves as a pilot agreement for other bargaining regions in German retail. The wage accord runs for 24 months and contains no opening clauses. After a four-month pay freeze, it provides for wage increases of 2% from 1 September 2009 and 1.5% from September 2010. Additional one-off payments are to be made in 2010 and 2011.

On 10–11 June 2009, a new collective agreement was concluded for retail employees in the western region of North Rhine-Westphalia. It serves as a pilot agreement for other bargaining regions in the retail trade sector. The 2009 bargaining round took place between the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di), regional affiliates of the Employer Association for Retail Trade (Hauptverband des Deutschen Einzelhandels, HDE) and the Joint Federation of Large and Medium-sized Retail Employers (Bundesarbeitsgemeinschaft der Mittel- und Großbetriebe des Einzelhandels, BAG). It turned out to be one of the briefest bargaining rounds in the German retail trade sector’s history.

Content of agreement

The agreement runs for 24 months. It provides for a zero increase in wages for four months and a general pay increase of 2% with effect from 1 September 2009. From 1 September 2010, wages will be raised by 1.5%. In April 2010, there will be a one-off payment amounting to €150 in total and, in 2011, another €150 will be paid as a contribution to a pension scheme. Apprentices are to receive a one-off payment of €75. The new agreement does not include ‘opening clauses’, which would allow for derogation from the terms of the agreement.

Views of social partners

According to the Chair of the Joint Bargaining Commission of HDE and BAG, Rainer Marschaus, the North Rhine-Westphalian agreement is a bearable compromise in times of economic stagnation and, currently, decreasing sales (press release, 11 June 2009 (in German, 108Kb PDF)). In the opinion of Mr Marschaus, it takes diverse business circumstances into consideration, as well as the fact that employees have in previous years shown wage restraint to support the sector. He suggested that the agreement may serve as a pilot agreement for the retail trade sector in other bargaining regions.

The trade union in the retail trade sector, ver.di, highlights that it is important to acknowledge that, despite the recession, a positive outcome and a net pay increase were achieved (statement, 11 June 2009 (in German)). Opening clauses that could have resulted in the postponement of wage increases or the reduction of one-off payments were prevented. ver.di attributes the fast result of the negotiations to a change in its strategy, including warning strikes at an early stage in the bargaining round, numerous, short strike actions and a publicity campaign entitled ‘Fair means: More’ (in German) calling for the support of customers and trade union representatives. However, there have also been severe criticisms of the agreement, notably by trade union officials in the southwestern Baden-Württemberg region who called it premature and a disappointment.

Difficult negotiations expected

In a recessionary climate, difficult negotiations were to be expected in the retail sector, as industrial relations in retail trade have become more conflictual in recent years. The 2007–2008 bargaining round involved thousands of strike actions and lasted 16 months – the longest dispute over a sectoral collective agreement in post-war Germany (DE0808019I). In the 2009 negotiations, ver.di had started out by calling for a significant increase in net wages of 6.5% to 6.8%, depending on the region, and one-off payments of €135 to €150 a year. On the other hand, employers had offered a pay increase of 1.1%–1.5% and demanded the insertion of opening clauses in the new agreement.

However, both sides were keen to reach an outcome quickly. Regional negotiations started on 3 April 2009 in the central region of Hesse. As of July 2009, the North Rhine-Westphalian agreement has been adopted in most of the German bargaining regions. Negotiations are to be continued in the northwestern region of Lower Saxony – where no agreement was reached in the 2007–2008 bargaining round. On 9 July 2009, talks failed in the eastern German regions of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, where the employer organisations reject the one-off payments of the pilot agreement as being too high. These disputes will continue into the autumn of 2009.

Birgit Kraemer, Institute of Economic and Social Research, WSI

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