The mood was combative when around 1,000 employees took part last week as part of the ongoing Collective bargaining round of the states gathered in St. Peter’s Church in Leipzig. The strike meeting was part of numerous other events that mobilized nationwide warning strikes in the run-up to the next negotiations on December 7th. This Monday, strikes and protests will take place at universities and university hospitals in over 80 cities. In the following days, employees in the city states and trainees also stopped work.
For the around 1.1 million employees in the public sector in the federal states, it’s about 10.5 percent more wages, but at least an increase of 500 euros gross per month – with the exception of Hesse, where its own negotiations are taking place. The demands are based on the collective bargaining agreement in the federal and local governments from April of this year and should also be transferred to the 1.4 million civil servants in the federal states.
Student employees at German universities, on the other hand, have not yet been uniformly classified. They are calling for a collective agreement with an hourly wage of at least 16.50 euros gross, an entitlement to vacation of 30 days a year and a special annual payment. They also want to abolish fixed-term contracts and enforce a minimum of 40 hours per month.
The need among the approximately 300,000 student employees is great. “I signed my eleventh contract as a research assistant this year,” reported a student from Leipzig University at the strike meeting in St. Peter’s Church. She has been working as a student employee for almost three years, sometimes with contracts for six months, sometimes for just one month. “It’s sometimes not clear to me whether I’ll be able to pay my rent next month and that makes me angry,” she criticized to thunderous applause from those present.
This is not an individual problem. Almost 75 percent of student employees are at risk of poverty. This emerges from a nationwide survey conducted by the Bremen Institute for Labor and Economics among around 11,000 students. The survey was commissioned by the Education and Science Union (GEW), Verdi and the Collective bargaining initiative for student employees (TVStud). An initiative that has existed for five years and has already won a collective agreement at universities in Berlin.
»The student employees work under precarious conditions. Low wages, fixed-term contracts and unpaid overtime are everyday life for them,” emphasized Verdi boss Frank Werneke about the current campaign. “This largest wage gap in the public service must finally be closed, because only secure positions and appropriate pay enable continuous, good scientific work,” he emphasized.
In response to nd’s request, the states’ negotiator, Hamburg Finance Senator Andreas Dressel (SPD), appeared willing to compromise. At the same time, however, he emphasized that he had little room for maneuver. The employees’ demands would cost a total of around 20.7 billion euros. »That is not affordable for the states. With all the appreciation that the work of the countries’ employees deserves, which they do for us as a society every day,” he said.
Dressel also showed understanding for the strikes. It is the right of the unions to emphasize the demands in collective bargaining with warning strikes, he emphasized. However, there was an offer from the states that Verdi did not respond to: “For all of the unions’ demands, including those for collective bargaining for student employees, we have shown ways in which the concerns of the unions can be addressed to an extent that is feasible for the states can take into account,” explained Dressel.
Verdi federal chairman Frank Werneke, however, criticized the employers’ attitude. They did not submit an acceptable offer in the second round either. “They have flatly rejected all essential demands and expectations.” He complained that employers were turning a blind eye to the massive shortage of personnel in the state’s public sector, the stressful situation facing employees and inadequate pay.
The negotiations seem deadlocked. There is also little scope for action on the part of the employees. Their aim is to prevent a drastic loss of real wages against the background of increased living costs. A collective agreement that falls short of these demands would be unacceptable for many employees, emphasized Clara Aimée, a nurse at the University Hospital in Leipzig.
Even the demand for 10.5 percent more wages can hardly compensate for the increase in prices for essential goods this year. According to the Federal Statistical Office, the inflation rate for food in July was around eleven percent compared to the same month last year. The inflation rate from the previous year is not taken into account.
In order to build pressure on the employers’ representatives in the run-up to the third round of negotiations, the unions want to further expand their warning strikes this week. In addition to the university action day on Monday, trainees and interns will also stop work on Tuesday. For them it’s a basic amount of 200 euros more per month. On Wednesday, employees in the city states of Bremen, Hamburg and Berlin are also scheduled to go on strike. For them, Verdi demands an additional special allowance of 300 euros per month.
The current wave of strikes is strongly characterized by activating union work. The demands for the collective bargaining round were developed, among other things, by self-organized activist groups and so-called collective bargaining ambassadors. They take on a role in the mobilization for protests and strikes in the companies and thus go beyond the traditional recruitment of members.
The increased grassroots activity was also noticeable in St. Peter’s Church in Leipzig, where predominantly employees from the companies took the floor. But there is a lot at stake. If the outcome of the negotiations falls short of the union’s demands, there could be great disappointment among the grassroots.
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