IIn the Corona year 2020, the unions have held back with wage demands. Now, however, IG Metall, the largest industrial union, is calling for an end to modesty – and is flexing its muscles with nationwide warning strikes.
The situation is deadlocked. In view of the unstable economic situation and the enormous challenges the automotive industry is facing, employers see no scope for distribution this year and instead want to enforce opening clauses to allow companies to deviate in the crisis, for example with regard to Christmas or holiday pay and other more flexible regulations enable.
The metal collective bargaining partners have already negotiated four times in this wage round without achieving a result. The peace obligation expired at the end of February, and the unions are calling for the first nationwide strike actions from Tuesday.
The union calls for a pay volume of four percent for the approximately five million employees, which should also serve to partially compensate for lost wages when working hours are reduced, for example a four-day week, if demand is weak. “We can only get out of the crisis by increasing consumption. That is why we now need a clear signal for the time after the crisis and no preaching of renunciation, ”said the IG Metall district manager in North Rhine-Westphalia, Knut Giesler.
IG Metall does not want to wait until next year to raise wages
The employers refer to the “acute threat situation” for many companies and criticize the warning strikes as a “superfluous ritual”. Your counter-proposal provides for a one-off payment for this year and then a table-effective wage increase from next year.
The collective bargaining policy must help companies cope with the economic consequences of the pandemic, get back to earlier growth as soon as possible and make future investments. “Only then can what our employees want most can be fulfilled: a secure job,” emphasized the President of the Association of the Metal and Electrical Industry in North Rhine-Westphalia, Arndt Kirchhoff.
IG Metall does not want to wait until next year to raise wages. The last wage increase in the table was in 2018. Because already in 2019, before the outbreak of the pandemic, the industry had slipped into recession. Last year, Corona came on top of that. Although things have been on the up again since last summer, the pre-crisis level has not yet been reached and the current economic situation is highly uncertain, also due to the unexpectedly slow rate of vaccination.
In addition, the auto industry and its suppliers are in a historic process of transformation. And the other areas of the metal and electronics industry, such as mechanical engineering, must also adapt to the reduction in CO2.
Employers are adamant
While the employers’ camp sees the structural change as an additional reason for the need for opening clauses, IG Metall would like to enforce a more binding say in the transformation processes instead. This is also a point of contention that has not yet been approached. “For employers, where IG Metall demands a say in business decisions, there is a red line,” said Wilfried Porth, chairman of the employers’ association Südwestmetall.
In the run-up to the warning strikes, IG Metall boss Jörg Hofmann reiterated the demand for a reduction in working hours to safeguard employment. New instruments are needed to cope with structural change. “And not just layoffs, but that work is distributed in such a way that as many people as possible can experience this structural change with good and secure employment,” emphasized Hofmann.
The employers are adamant. Especially since the last regular closing from 2018 was very expensive with a volume of 4.3 percent. While the union was celebrating the “strong collective agreement” at the time, there was great resentment in the employers’ camp. A number of companies then sought their salvation in the tariff flight, which has been going on for years anyway.
More and more companies remain members of the general association, but are leaving the collective bargaining association. While there were around 1,432 such non-collective bargaining members in the industry in 2005, their number in 2019 was almost 4045 companies – and thus significantly higher than the number of companies bound by collective bargaining, which Gesamtmetall states with 3322.
Collective wages in manufacturing grew at a below-average rate
With the warning strikes, the short phase of constructive cooperation with which the social partners have so far gone through the Corona period ends. Last spring, the metal collective bargaining partners concluded a corona emergency wage agreement within a very short time, which mainly regulated short-time working and did not provide for any wage increases. Many other branches of industry are based on this cooperative approach.
According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, collective wages in the manufacturing sector only increased by 0.7 percent in 2020, which is significantly less than in the economy as a whole, which, despite the severe crisis, recorded an increase of 2.1 percent.
“Collective earnings rose above average in 2020, especially in the areas that are shaped by the public service,” emphasized the statisticians. In the area of ”education and instruction” there was three percent more. The “Public Administration, Defense, Social Insurance” division is just below that with 2.9 percent.
The collective wage development, however, only reflects part of the world of work. If you look at all employees, there is actually a negative development in nominal wages for 2020 for the first time since the survey in 2007, which fell by 0.6 percent. In real terms, i.e. adjusted for inflation, the minus was one percent. After all, the short-time work allowance with which the state supports companies and employees in the Corona crisis has significantly slowed the decline in wages.