New package of agreements for social and childcare workers

In late July 2009, following months of industrial dispute, the United Services Union and the German Union of Education agreed with the Municipal Employers’ Association on a new package of agreements covering some 220,000 public employees working in kindergartens, day-care centres, as well as the youth welfare service and social agencies. The agreements include provisions on occupational health protection and a grading system providing for higher wages for most employees.

On 27 July 2009, a bargaining union led by the United Services Union (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft, ver.di) and the German Union of Education (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, GEW), both affiliated to the Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB), agreed with representatives of the Municipal Employers’ Association (Vereinigung der kommunalen Arbeitgeberverbände, VKA) on a package of collective agreements on occupational health protection and a new grading system in terms of pay. The agreements cover some 220,000 public employees working in kindergartens, day-care centres for children (Kindertagesstätte, KiTa), as well as in the youth welfare service and social agencies. The settlement followed months of dispute and high-profile strike action involving tens of thousands of child educators, crèche workers and social workers. The agreement was finally accepted on 15 August by ver.di and GEW following a ballot among their members. A comparatively small majority of 55% of the ver.di members concerned approved the settlement, whereas 84% of GEW members voted in favour of it.

Provisions on occupational health

A prominent issue in the dispute was the situation of occupational health in kindergartens, crèches and day-care centres for children. Noise levels, as well as psychological and physical stress, often related to understaffing, were among the most urgent problems identified by workers in the sector.

The new settlement amends the package of agreements for the municipal public service by adding special provisions on occupational health protection for workers in social and educational services. These workers are guaranteed an individual right to a health risk assessment for their job. The workers will be involved in this assessment and any eventual measures to be introduced by the employing establishment will be discussed with the workers before being implemented.

Under the new provisions, the staff councils and works councils in the public sector will have the right to demand the establishment of a bipartite health commission at establishment level, composed equally of members nominated by the staff or works council. This commission will advise the establishment concerning the measures to be taken as a consequence of health risk assessments and can make proposals regarding theses measures. The employer is obliged to follow these proposals if the commission with the majority of the members delegated by the employer agrees to them. This means that the employer effectively has a right to veto all proposed measures. The employer is required, however, to give the reasons for rejecting proposals made by the commission members delegated by the staff council or works council.

Provisions on pay

At the core of the dispute was the question of a proper grading of educational staff and social workers in terms of pay levels. The trade unions demanded a new pay grading system that should acknowledge the job requirements and reflect the societal appreciation of care and educational workers .

The bargaining parties finally agreed on a new special grading system that will apply exclusively to employees in the public social and educational services (see table below). All current employees will be grouped in one of the 16 pay scales (S3 – S18). The professional and occupational groups to be attributed to each scale are set out in an annex to the agreement. Educational assistants (Kinderpfleger) will be grouped in scale S3 or S4 depending on the requirements of the job. Child educators or crèche workers with a professional education will be grouped between S6 and S9, again depending on the requirements and responsibilities of the job. The top scales are generally reserved for heads of large day-care centres or approved schools. Within each scale, up to six pay grades are related to the employee’s length of service.

Although employers have indicated that employees of public day-care centres will each receive an average of €150 more a month, GEW calculated an average pay increase of about €100. The grading system will come into effect on 1 November 2009. With effect from 1 January 2010, it will be fully adopted for workers in eastern Germany.

Gross monthly pay scales and grades for social and educational services, as of 1 November 2009 (€)
  Starting pay (Grundstufe) Development grades (Entwicklungsstufen)
Scale Grade 1 Grade 2 Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5 Grade 6
S18 3,000 3,100 3,500 3,800 4,250 4,525
S17 2,700 2,975 3,300 3,500 3,900 4,135
S16 2,630 2,910 3,130 3,400 3,700 3,880
S15 2,530 2,800 3,000 3,230 3,600 3,760
S14 2,500 2,700 2,950 3,150 3,400 3,575
S13 2,500 2,700 2,950 3,150 3,400 3,525
S12 2,400 2,650 2,890 3,100 3,360 3,470
S11 2,300 2,600 2,730 3,050 3,300 3,450
S10 2,240 2,480 2,600 2,950 3,230 3,460
S9 2,230 2,400 2,550 2,825 3,050 3,265
S8 2,140 2,300 2,500 2,785 3,045 3,250
S7 2,075 2,275 2,435 2,595 2,715 2,890
S6 2,040 2,240 2,400 2,560 2,705 2,864
S5 2,040 2,240 2,390 2,470 2,580 2,770
S4 1,850 2,100 2,230 2,340 2,410 2,500
S3 1,750 1,960 2,100 2,240 2,280 2,320

Note: The grading system is for western Germany but will be fully adapted to eastern Germany with effect from 1 January 2010.

Source: GEW, 2009

Reactions to agreement

The Chief Negotiator for VKA, Thomas Böhle, stated that municipal employers agreed to a settlement that takes into account the difficult budget situation of municipalities and allows for improvements in pay for employees. He regarded VKA’s agreement to the compromise as a contribution to ending the strikes in the sector.

The Chair of ver.di, Frank Bsirske, admitted that the content of the agreement was not what the trade union had hoped for, but considered the agreement as a first step to give more recognition to the professions in the education sector. He emphasised that the provisions on occupational health would go beyond the requirements provided by legislation. A national meeting of strike delegates had only accepted the outcome after a lengthy debate where the compromise was met with substantial criticism.

The Chief Negotiator of GEW, Ilse Schaad, agreed with Mr Bsirske of ver.di that the trade unions would not have been successful in obtaining all of their demands but highlighted that the agreement would help to improve pay in particular for crèche workers and child educators who had taken up a position in the public service since 1 October 2005.

Background

The agreement must be considered against the background of the introduction of a new general framework collective agreement (Tarifvertrag öffentlicher Dienst, TVöD) for employees in the federal and municipal public sector on 1 October 2005 (DE0503203F). The TVöD replaced the separate collective agreement frameworks for blue-collar and white-collar employees in the public sector (the BAT and MTArb respectively) that had existed for 45 years. While the pay levels of workers who had been employed under the old terms remained relatively unchanged, many employees employed after 1 October 2005 received substantially lower salaries over their career span than they would have been entitled to under the old system. In particular, the TVöD lacked specific regulations concerning the grading of employees newly entering the public service.

The social and educational services employ mainly women. It was largely felt by employees and the trade unions that social and educational work was underpaid, not least because predominantly female occupations were traditionally undervalued. Ver.di considered it a difficult task to solve this problem within negotiations for the entire public sector and decided to push for a separate solution. As the trade union was still bound to a peace obligation, it could not officially call for industrial action on the issue of pay. To circumvent this obligation, ver.di put forward new demands for a collective agreement on occupational health. This was an important demand for workers in the sector. When negotiations on occupational health provisions failed, ver.di called for a ballot among its members and on 15 May 2009 it received the approval of 90% of members for industrial action. It was joined by the second largest union in the sector, GEW.

In a number of municipalities, public employers successfully proceeded to the courts in order to win injunctions against the strike. This, however, did not stop the strike movement from spreading across Germany. To better involve the striking workers in the decision-making process, ver.di held three national meetings of about 300 strike delegates from across Germany. Although largely sympathetic to the issue, some working parents faced problems when day-care facilities were closed and they had to organise alternative care for their children. Some became critical of ver.di as the dispute continued, whereas others supported the strikers and blamed public employers for not relenting to the unions’ demands.

Heiner Dribbusch, Institute of Economic and Social Research (WSI)

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