Arm wrestling social for the work week of 28 hours in Germany

Photo: Tobias Schwarz Agence France-Presse
The powerful German trade union of the metallurgy, IG Metall, on Monday gave the blow of sending of protests including the passage of the working week from 35 to 28 hours for those who want it, with partial compensation of loss of wages or salary by the employer. Here in front of a building of the lift company Otis in Berlin.

The powerful German trade union of the metallurgy, IG Metall, on Monday gave the kick-off of an arm of iron social is shaping up to be one of the hardest in recent years in Germany.


Several dozen walkouts were underway Monday in the country, in particular in the automotive sector, to support claims, including on financing by the employer of a working time reduction to 28 hours weekly.


“We fight for a working-time flexibility, for the first time since the fight for the 35 hours “, which started in 1984, and “remained in the memories as one of the big success of IG Metall,” recalls Claudia König, head of association, who joined the procession in berlin, hundreds of steelworkers, vests, working red-and-whistles to the hand.


In accordance with a strategy a well-oiled, work stoppages affecting carefully selected companies, including Volkswagen, Porsche, Otis and Bombardier, in the West of Rhineland-of-North–Westphalia (with 700 000 strikers announced), but also in the South and the East.


IG Metall intends to strengthen its pressure upon Tuesday, calling for the disengage in 143 companies. The movement must last at least a week after initial warning strikes very localized, the last week, especially at Porsche.


The parties mid-way


Since October, the union demands for the 3.9 million employees in the sector, a salary increase of 6 %. The employer federation Gesamtmetall proposes 2 %. Nothing unusual about that. In general, the parties meet halfway.


But this time, the conflict focuses on a development unique to the time of work requested by IG Metall : the passage of the working week from 35 to 28 hours for those who want it, with partial compensation of loss of wages or salary by the employer.


The formula would be valid for a maximum of two years and the employer should ensure a return to a full-time position.


“The workers are not just workers; they have personal lives, children, aging parents, all of this must be taken into account “, summarizes the forum’s gathering in berlin the local boss of the IG Metall, Olivier Höbel.


The employers of the sector believes such a requirement is unacceptable and unworkable. It is estimated that nearly two-thirds of employees would be eligible for this the organisation of working time and fears of a puzzle and administrative workshops depopulated.


Employers also highlight the risk of discrimination in the case of the implementation of this plan to the employees already working part-time for a reduced salary.


Climbing means of pressure


This question has already been stumbling blocks to the negotiations of a branch in the fall. If the impasse continues, the next step could be the strike lasts, a rarity in this country, steeped in culture of co-determination.


Without the advanced of the business, it will be ” extremely difficult to conduct the salary negotiation to well by merely warning strikes “, warned this weekend the leader of IG Metall, Novel Zitzelsberger.


With nearly 2.3 million members, IG Metall, which represents the employees of all categories in the industry (Siemens, ThyssenKrupp), the iron and steel industry, the automobile industry (VW, Daimler, Porsche), electronics, or the textile, is the largest union in Europe.


The walkouts accompany traditionally the wage negotiations in Germany. In contrast, IG Metall has not organized a national strike and unlimited since 2003.


The employer federation threat, to bring the matter before the courts, a sign of a hardening of the conflict that contrasts with the social negotiations rather calmed down the past few years.


The next round of talks will start on Thursday, against a backdrop of concern employers face the threat of a conflict of indefinite duration in the key industries in Germany, such as the automotive or machine tools.


However, IG Metall appears on his side from a position of strength, buoyed by an economy on the mend. All the fundamentals of the German economy, employment, exports, inflation, are in the green.


After you have demanded for decades the redistribution of the fruits of growth, the union brings this time a claim is new in the landscape of global trade union, even if he believed for twenty years that it is also the employer of financing constraints personal to the worker.