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ISSUE 52 page 6

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German unions split on ‘one plant – one agreement’ principle’

Germany’s long-standing arrangements for trade union representation and negotiating rights have been challenged by a Federal Labour Court ruling that allows more than one collective agreement to apply at a workplace. Main confederation DGB want to reverse it while independents do not.

As part of the post-war settlement in Germany industrial relations were dominated by agreements at industry level between unions affiliated to the DGB federation and members of the German Employers’ Associations (BDA). This was backed up  ‘collective bargaining unity’  which stipulated that only one agreement could be made per workplace. In recent years, however, this system has been eroded as plant-level deals have become more popular and unions outside the DGB have multiplied. Often, the amalagamation of smaller unions into large ones such as ver.di in the service sector, has led to groups of workers feeling left out and joining new organisations like VC (see page 2), representing pilots and flight engineers, and GDL (see issue 41) for train drivers. Sometimes these unions aim to better the large ones, that have signed up to wage restraint, on pay rates but others such as the Christian CGB have been accused of ‘wage-dumping’  in undercutting DGB affiliates.
Although the influence of these new unions is still limited the Labour Court decision opens the door to them as it allows separate deals for groups of workers in different unions, in theory even if they do the same job.  The DGB opposes the judgement with general secretary, Michael Sommer, stating ‘We fear that this decision could lead to a fragmentation of collective bargaining with negative consequences for employees and companies’, So does the BDA, fearing competition between unions will lead to more industrial action, and the social partners have proposed a new law that would prevent any union breaking an agreement that any of them had signed within a particular occupation. By contrast six independent trade unions have pledged to fight any reversal of the ruling, including the MB who represent the  doctors whose original complaint that they had lost their holiday supplements sparked the case. They hailed the court’s ruling as ‘a success for employees, who can no longer be denied the right to choose which trade union concludes a valid agreement for them’. It is thought that Chancellor Merkel will support a law change however.


Anti-union judgements continue
Turkish case must lead to journalist protection
A recent judgement by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has continued what the ETUC refers to as the ‘dark series’ started by the ‘Viking’ and ‘Laval’ decisions (see many past issues). In Germany employees can allocate part of their salary to fund occupational pensions which are administered by collective agreement with unions. The deal between the ver.di trade union and the VKA local authority employers was challenged by the European Commission because it laid down the pension companies that could be used. The ECJ found that there should have been an EU-wide tendering process for the contract and rejected the German government’s defence that the provisions of collective agreements were outside the scope of the Public Procurement Directive. According to ETUC General Secretary John Monks the ruling ‘confirms the supremacy of economic freedoms over fundamental social rights’ and he re-iterated that ‘the EU is not just an economic project but has as its main objective the improvement of living and working conditions of its population’.
A leading Turkish journalist who was murdered three years ago was not adequately protected by the government according to the European Court of Human Rights. Hrant Dink had been given a suspended prison sentence for ‘insulting Turkishness’ in his newspaper ’Agos’ and was subsequently killed by an extreme nationalist. The court found that three articles of the European Convention had been violated, the police having received information including the identity of those planning the assassination. 'This is a landmark judgment that outlaws impunity and holds governments to account when they fail to protect journalists’ said Aidan White, General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ).

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