Collective bargaining still has clout in Germany and the IG Metall union (Industrial Union of Metalworkers) has more leverage than most with an estimated 3.9 million workers on it’s books. In fact IG Metall is the biggest union in Germany.
So what do they want? It’s simple really, a reduction from the current 35 hour working week, to a 28 hour working week. Now before you roll your eyes again, it’s not a permanent 28 hour working week. No, IG Metall are campaigning for the right of workers to opt-in to a 2 year period where they would work a 28 hour week. After the two years had run it’s course the worker would then return to full employment and a normal working week.
The union believe that shorter hours would allow workers to achieve a better work-life balance. Need more flexibility to look after children or elderly parents, easy, just down-size your working week. Sounds sensible, very family friendly and great for worker welfare. Is it practical though? Unsurprisingly, IG Metall are meeting resistance from ‘The Management’ and that’s the reason they have already staged factory walkouts. Oh yeah, they also want a 6% pay rise.
Over 80 companies across Germany witnessed short ‘warning strikes’ at factories this month. Around 600,000 workers have taken part in industrial action which has included employees of luxury car maker Porsche, Bosch, Siemens, BMW and Volkswagen.
The German economy is in rude health, unemployment is at an all time low and just 5.5% of eligible workers are unemployed. These favorable economic conditions have buoyed the spirits of union leaders who are no stranger to getting good results for their members. IG Metall won the right for paid sick leave in 1956, a 5 day work week in 1959, a 40 hour work week in 1965 and a 35 hour work week in 1995 for the metal industry. That’s some legacy that current union chiefs have to live up to.
Company bosses estimate that 25% of the current workforce would opt-in to the 28 hour work week if it was introduced. Figures that high just don’t tally for executives who have dismissed the proposal as far too expensive. Add to that the shortage of skilled workers in the sector and you can see why both camps are poles apart. A compromise offer of a 2% wage increase is on the table but there has been no movement on the issue of flexible hours.
Vorsprung durch stalemate.