Public service: 4.8 percent despite empty coffers?

Daycare workers, carers, garbage collectors: they are what the collective bargaining for the public service is all about. The unions demand 4.8 percent. “Completely excessive,” say employers. How can an agreement be reached??

The signs for the collective bargaining in the public sector that are starting today are anything but favorable. Because the demands of both sides are far apart. In any case, there is a risk of an uncomfortable wage dispute.

Who is the negotiation about??

2.3 million collective bargaining employees are directly affected by the outcome of the negotiations. Among other things, daycare teachers, garbage collectors, bus drivers and airport employees. According to the unions, the result will be transferred to more than 200,000 civil servants.

Who negotiates?

The trade union ver.di and the Beamtenbund dbb represent the interests of the employees. Across from them are representatives of the Association of Municipal Employers’ Associations (VKA) and the federal government.

What are the unions asking for?

The unions are calling for 4.8 percent more wages for a term of twelve months. Small incomes should increase by at least 150 euros. Training and internship salaries are also expected to rise – by 100 euros per month. There is also a demand for working hours to be reduced in the east by one hour to 39 hours as in the west. Special improvements are to be achieved for health care and nursing.

What is the position of employers?

For employers, these demands are "completely excessive". According to the VKA, they show "that the unions have obviously not recognized the seriousness of the situation – and that in the worst recession since the founding of the Federal Republic", says VKA President and Luneburg Mayor Ulrich Madge (SPD). The registers are empty. There is nothing to distribute. According to the consensus, the implementation of the demands would cost around six billion euros.

The President of the German District Assembly, Reinhard Sager, described it as "irresponsible" if, in times of tax shortfalls and packages for crisis management, billions were directed towards districts, cities and municipalities. "Unless the union side shows fundamental movement, it will be extremely difficult collective bargaining," warns Sager.

An employer offer is usually not expected until the third round of collective agreements in October.

What role does the corona pandemic play?

According to ver.di and dbb, many employees expect their efforts in the crisis to be rewarded. This applies in particular to the occupational groups that were particularly exposed to the pandemic – such as nurses and doctors, daycare educators or employees of the Federal Employment Agency, who incurred a lot of overtime to process applications for short-time work. "There are extensive compensation payments from the federal government for the loss of income due to the corona lockdown," says dbb boss Ulrich Silberbach. That is why he sees scope for a wage increase.

How likely are strikes??

Warning strikes with publicly visible protests as a means of pressure are made more difficult because of the distance and hygiene rules. Ver.di boss Frank Werneke does not want to hold large rallies under pandemic conditions. But you can also protest at a distance of 1.5 meters. And there could be work stoppages anyway. "The essence of the strike is that you don’t work. It can take place in different formations." At the same time, he emphasizes not to seek escalation. However, this presupposes "that we get an offer early that can be agreed," he said in the ARD morning magazine. "If things turn out differently, we can of course go on strike."

How was the previous collective agreement?

In 2018, both sides agreed on a wage increase of 7.5 percent for federal and municipal employees.

At that time, two old acquaintances sat opposite each other: the long-time bosses of ver.di and VKA, Frank Bsirske and Thomas Bohle, who had been friends over the years. At that time, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer was still a newcomer to the collective bargaining scheme as the top federal representative. This year there will be a new constellation when the new ver.di boss Werneke and VKA representative Madge sit across from each other.

Are there any special concerns of crisis industries?

According to ver.di, the airport staff in particular urgently need an agreement. A restructuring or emergency collective agreement is sought here. 80 percent of those affected are on short-time work – without a collective agreement there is a risk of large-scale dismissals.

What is it about besides income?

By comparatively few points, that could simplify the negotiations. Little should change in the classification of the innumerable professions and levels of experience in the individual salary groups.

When can an agreement be expected??

It’s hard to predict. Due to the different interests of both sides, observers expect that it could be extended. In other words, the negotiating partners will probably have to admit failure after the third negotiation date, which is scheduled for the end of October, and call in an independent arbitrator.