It was a U-turn at top speed! In the middle of the negotiations for a new collective agreement, the outbreak of the pandemic forced the parties to the collective agreement in the metal and electrical industry to react quickly. Until well into March, the talks had primarily focused on the question of what contribution the bargaining parties could make to tackling the enormous challenges of the transformation.
Especially in times of crisis, companies and employees need at least collective planning security. Metal employers and IG Metall in North Rhine-Westphalia quickly agreed on this. A look back at the year 2010 offered confidence in the way we act together. In cooperation with politics, we were able to contribute to the metal and electrical industry with our collective wage agreement, which was also negotiated in North Rhine-Westphalia, in the severe recession resulting from the financial crisis most companies in the market and most employees could stay in work.
Even now, crisis management in terms of collective bargaining was in demand: further cost burdens for companies had to be avoided and companies also had to be freed from the previously unavoidable costs of short-time work in order to safeguard employment. Employees who are particularly hard hit by short-time work should be helped. And employees who suddenly no longer knew how to look after their children needed support.
Understanding of mutual concerns
The tariff parties have found good solutions for this. At company level, companies and the works council can now reduce the tariff remanence costs from the first day of short-time work if, in return, employment security is given. The operating parties now also have a hardship fund from which the financial losses of employees particularly affected by short-time work can be mitigated or even compensated.
It was also agreed to grant employees with special care problems five additional days off under certain conditions. The collective wage agreement was also put back into force by the end of the year.
The negotiating atmosphere of the collective bargaining politicians was – with all contradictions – characterized by mutual understanding for the greatest concerns of the other side. Everyone involved knew about their responsibility for the most important German industry. It was all the greater in that – unlike usual – because of the pandemic, the background commissions of employers and unions could not be on site and opinion-forming had to be organized differently.
The rapid adoption of all other tariff areas shows that the agreement – taking into account region-specific peculiarities – has found a nationwide consensus. The peace of mind in the German metal and electrical industry is now secured by the end of the year.
This crisis teaches us a lot. For example, in times when all of our lives seem to be off the hook and a lot of things are no longer what they used to be, they demand reliability and perspectives. It is then that central institutions in a society have to prove themselves.
No distribution struggles in times of crisis
This applies in particular to politics and administration. Both are currently doing outstanding work in an absolutely exceptional situation. This also applies to the functionality of the social market economy in our country. For them, tariff autonomy is one, if not the main pillar. And that has just once again proven to be stable and resilient.
Times of crisis have always been unsuitable for tough distribution struggles. Because out of general economic interest, the primary goal is to save as many companies as possible in the country. In view of the struggle for survival of many companies, the aid measures of the federal and state governments are more than unsuitable for ideological debates on justice.
It is about saving jobs, not about redistribution in favor of the German economy. And that is why the expanded regulations on short-time work benefits are not a gift to companies, but only serve to avoid mass unemployment.
Distribution struggles are sometimes fierce in our country. I have no illusions that this will one day be the same – also in our industry. IG Metall has proven that, if it matters, it can put aside its sometimes too strong tendency to oppose conflict.
Good role models required
In doing so, it has sent an important signal to many of our member companies that are bound by collective bargaining agreements, who have been threatened in their competitiveness by the union’s collective bargaining policy for years. Many have recently considered leaving the area tariff. This was one of the reasons why the previous round of wages was extremely important.
Hopefully, if we soon overcome the pandemic and start to overcome the economic consequences of this terrible global epidemic, I hope that the memory of the collective bargaining in this existential crisis will remain alive – on both sides.
A look at our neighboring country France, where the CGT union has now called for a month-long strike by the civil service, should once again underline the value of the collective bargaining agreement for our country. Crises are only overcome in cooperation and not through confrontation.
More: Metal employers warn of socio-political bidding competition.