When it comes to the wage dispute, the drivers currently demand all the attention. In the shadow of the railway strike, however, another major wage round will start this week: that for the public service of the states. On Thursday, the service union Verdi and the Beamtenbund (DBB) want to announce their claim for compensation. The first negotiations will take place on 8 October. The problem: Workers point to the hardships caused by the pandemic — and countries point to their strained households.
“We don’t accept real wage losses,” said DBB boss Ulrich Silberbach Süddeutsche Zeitung. “Inflation is rising, our colleagues from the countries have done an excellent job in the Corona crisis. They will now not only foot the bill for the pandemic and take on the fiscal restructuring by sacrificing revenue.” On the other hand, Lower Saxony’s finance minister Reinhold Hilbers (CDU), who negotiates for the collective bargaining community of the states (TdL), is trying to temper expectations: “There is little room for maneuver,” he told the SZ. The pandemic hit the countries not only in terms of health policies, but also financially. They should spend a lot to strengthen the health system, support the economy, help communities and help citizens. “Total debt has increased,” said Hilbers.
At the same time, the weaker economic situation would expose them to structural tax deficits. The employees are highly valued. “But the state still has to maintain its ability to act.” In the medium term, countries should return to a consolidation stance.
So the question is: what does it mean to the employees? According to TdL, 845,000 direct collective labor agreement employees of the federal states are affected by a qualification, as well as 1.2 million civil servants and 875,000 pension recipients, ie pensioners. According to Hilbers, one percent more salary costs the states for employees more than 460 million euros, when passed on to civil servants that would be 1.4 to 1.5 billion.
Only 15 federal states are sitting at the table
The previous agreement between the federal government and the local authorities is usually the reference point for the country round. In 2020 that was 1.4 percent more salary – but at least 50 euros – from April 2021, plus another 1.8 percent in April 2022. There were also allowances for employees in intensive care, nursing or the GGD and a corona bonus. Increased inflation could also play a role in the country round. Verdi boss Frank Werneke says, for example, that higher prices, for example for energy, are especially noticeable among low and middle incomes. This is one of the reasons the unions would demand a minimum amount in addition to a percentage wage requirement, he told the SZ – which would mean a disproportionate increase for small incomes.
In fact, even the unions should not hope for a collective labor agreement like three years ago – the then Verdi boss Frank Bsirske spoke of the “best result in many years”. They then received eight percent more money in three phases; the federal states estimate the costs at 7.3 billion euros – without passing them on to officials.
Collective bargaining rounds in the public sector are usually complicated. It is rarely just about more money, usually also about the already tricky tariff network. The complexity starts with the question of who is actually affected by this country round. It starts with only 15 participating countries. Hessen resigned from the TdL in 2004 as a result of collective labor agreement disputes. In the medium term, the employers’ alliance could lose another member: in the autumn of 2020, the general meeting of the TdL decided to kick out Berlin. The reason: the state had decided to continue to pay its employees the so-called capital allowance, which from the point of view of the other states is contrary to the statutes of the TdL.
In addition to the dispute over money against the background of the pandemic, the desire of employers to negotiate the “work process” may cause problems in the countries this time. This describes what a public service employee is responsible for, for example the processing of a file. The following applies: the harder the work, the higher the pay scale. That sounds like a boring administrative detail, but Verdi simply translates this request as “attack on the entire ranking system”.
Depending on the “work process”, employees are divided into wage groups
The employers are concerned with the “big jobs”. For example, instead of breaking down an administrative process into small work steps and in some cases assigning it to different people, lawyers are often responsible for the entire process: from incoming files at the post office to final settlement. Since this naturally entails various complex activities, the question arises: in which salary group is such a person classified?
The federal labor court has ruled, says Verdi rate expert Oliver Bandosz, that these workers should generally be graded higher. At least if they performed difficult activities to a “legally relevant degree” – 13 or 15 percent was sufficient. The classification procedures for employees are limited to the judiciary, says Verdi boss Werneke. He therefore finds it inappropriate for employers to focus on the issue in such a way.
The trade unions want to prevent the work process even being discussed in the collective labor agreement negotiations. But TdL boss Hilbers says: “We want what was previously agreed with the unions to continue to apply: that employees with demanding jobs earn more than those who do less heavy work.” But for that you need small evaluation units instead of a large work process. It couldn’t be fair, Hilbers said, that even a small portion of the demanding tasks would be enough to be grouped into a higher salary tier. “That doesn’t fit with performance-related pay.”
If the TdL has its way, it must therefore be made clear in the collective labor agreement that, despite the case law of the Federal Labor Court, a subordinate, complicated activity is no longer sufficient for an automatic upgrade. At the same time, the TdL also called on the Federal Constitutional Court to review the case law of the Federal Labor Court.
Werneke, on the other hand, says: “If we were to move in the direction the TdL demands, the door would open the door to a lower group of tens of thousands of colleagues – or at least to freeze the salary level.” Work processes would be better integrated through digitization alone. “The Taylorist division of labor in many small steps is a thing of the past.”