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ISSUE 54 page 3

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German employers use temps and flexi-accounts to get over slump

DURING THE ECONOMIC CRASH, BEGINNING IN 2008, orders for the products of Germany’s dominant manufacturing industry reduced considerably. In previous slumps this would have resulted in a rise in unemployment as companies shed jobs to balance production with demand but this doesn’t seem to have happened this time. The explanation is not limited to the ending of contracts for temporary agency workers but also includes the use of working time accounts. Under this system employees build up credits if they work more hours than a ‘core’ requirement. In the good times this was common as booming orders required overtime. When firms needed less time from their workers they reduced actual working hours and used the credits to fulfil the ‘core’ and therefore, pay. A survey of works council members by the Institute of Economic and Social Research has found that about a third of German companies made use of working time accounts by reducing the hours accumulated between summer 2008 and autumn 2009. Most firms that used this method applied it to over 60% of their work force and the average number of credited hours fell from 72 to 27, however only 2% reported that some employees now had ‘minus hours’ which they will have to work off when the economy picks up.
Works councils were also the source for another survey by German trade union IG Metall. This time the focus was on temporary agency workers. In a measure of how strongly the German economy has rebounded from the financial crisis, 85% of the over 5,000 works councils that responded said that their employers were looking for more staff. Although 43% of these preferred to recruit agency workers, in only 20% of firms had temporary agency staff numbers reached the same level as before the crisis, in 2008. Only 15% of recruiting companies were mainly taking on permanent employees, the rest were seeking fixed-term contract workers. A fifth of works councils believed that new agency recruits would replace permanent staff in their companies and 23% reported that such recruits already accounted for between 10% and 50% of the work force. The union described the results as ‘alarming’ as they showed that the use of temporary workers had gone beyond a method of dealing with peaks in production to become an instrument of ‘wage-dumping’. Although IG Metall has concluded agreements with over 500 companies to improve the terms and conditions of agency staff, new regulations were needed to ensure equal pay and to prevent agencies sacking staff once their assignment has finished. 

EU print sector partners agree restructuring deal
Turkish strikers win due to international support
UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS IN THE  PRINTING SECTOR FOUND little difficulty in agreeing that their industry faced a combination of factors that added up to a serious challenge to its future. As well as the financial crisis, the growth of digital and online technologies, new media, increases in the costs of materials, outsourcing and change in the skills required, variation across the EU in legislation, tax and government support had created their own difficulties. In a highly fragmented industry where 95% of companies employ fewer than twenty workers it is inevitable that restructuring, including loss of employment, will occur.  In order to examine the best ways to carry this out in a socially responsible manner UNI Europa Graphical and Intergraf conducted a year-long project that recommended joint information sharing, the encouragement of best practice, creating a campaign to promote the industry, especially in schools and colleges, investment in knowledge and skills and a commitment to planning and employability. A more detailed toolkit was also produced to help companies and union branches steer their restructuring in the right direction. Based on the project recommendations Simon Dubbins and Håvard Grjotheim signed a declaration that promises to set up an ‘observatory’ to identify issues to be brought to the attention of decision makers and to involve suppliers, customers and the European Commission.

WORKERS AT THE TURKISH SUBSIDIARY OF a multi-national delivery firm who were dismissed for refusing to sign away their right to join a trade union (see issue 52) have got their jobs back. The TÜMTIS union and the TURK-Is labour confederation conducted a ten-month campaign of picketing with financial support for strikers together with international pressure applied through the International Transport Federation (ITF) and Union Network International (UNI). 162 workers were re-instated and received compensation packages. Because parcel delivery is now dominated by global companies such as DHL, Fedex, TNT and Geopost, as well as UPS, the ITF say that international action is the only way to unionise the industry. The same firm can have co-operative relations with unions in one country while ignoring workers’ rights in another.


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