• Germany edition
 
Germany seeks to curb union power over strikes
The strikes last week affected 425,000 passengers. Photo: DPA

Germany seeks to curb union power over strikes

Published: 06 Apr 2014 09:04 GMT+02:00

And the German government is looking to draw up legislation later this year to prevent this from happening again.

"One company, one wage agreement" is the motto behind a proposed "Tarifeinheit" or unified wage-bargaining mechanism masterminded by Labour Minister Andrea Nahles.

Over three days last week, the cockpit pilots' union effectively grounded the country's biggest airline Lufthansa in a dispute over pay and early retirement entitlements.

Between Wednesday and Friday, Lufthansa - which employs a total workforce of around 117,000 - was forced to cancel 3,800 flights, or most of its scheduled services, stranding nearly half a million passengers, because of a dispute concerning a group of as few as 5,400 employees.

While Lufthansa largely succeeded in averting widespread travel chaos by warning passengers and helping them to rebook in advance, the walkout by a relatively small number of employees affected more people than any of the rare strikes held by the massive IG Metall metalworkers' union with its more than two million members.

Other unions representing smaller professions - such as the Marburger Bund for hospital doctors, GDL for train drivers, UFO for airline cabin crew and GdF for air traffic controllers - can have similar sway.

"I would wish that the most powerful employees within a company would use their strength to support the weakest and not merely in their own interests," Nahles said, underlining a need for solidarity.

Hagen Lesch, an expert from the IW economic think tank which is close to employers, analysed 123 wage disputes and found that unions representing narrower interests were more likely to lay down tools.

Lufthansa is one company that knows all about this.

Last summer, its Germanwings subsidiary was threatened with walkouts by the UFO union representing cabin crew, following similar strikes the previous year.

And in a country used to wage-negotiating by sector-wide giants such as IG Metall or Verdi, it is the smaller unions that tend to flex their muscles most, such as the GDL train drivers union which brought rail traffic to a standstill in 2007.

But Nahles, of the Social Democrats, is keen to make it clear that employees' fundamental right to strike is not under threat.

"The project is not aimed at tampering with the right to strike, but at re-organising unified wage-bargaining. We want a single wage deal applicable across the entire company," a Social Democrat MP, Katja Mast, told AFP.

For the time being, however, "it's still at a consultation stage on a ministerial level. There is nothing concrete," she said.

Alongside the labour minister, the interior and justice ministries are also involved and Nahles hopes to present a draft law "this year."

The issue is delicate because if smaller unions are banned from making any demands while a principal wage agreement is still in place, it is difficult to see how it cannot impinge on their right to strike.

The unions themselves seem torn. While the DGB trade union federation said in 2010 that it was in favour of such a rule, it has back-pedalled since.

"Fundamentally speaking, we don't think it can be good if divisional unions push through their own interests without considering the wider good," DGB official Rainer Hoffmann told AFP.

"We as unions are in favour of wage bargaining that is based on solidarity. But only on condition that the right to strike is not interfered with."

The head of the giant services sector union Verdi, Frank Bsirske, said he was critical of the government's plans and sceptical about their implementation.

For their part, employers will be less difficult to convince.

"The smaller a group of striking workers is, the higher the obstacles should be for industrial action," Lufthansa chief executive Wolfgang Franz told the business daily Handelsblatt in an interview.

The pilots' strike ended on Friday but no new negotiations are yet in sight.

SEE ALSO: airports">'They have rights but not a three-day strike'

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Germany debates scrapping coal power
Photo: DPA

Germany debates scrapping coal power

After deciding to scrap nuclear power, Germany is pondering saying goodbye to coal, its biggest energy source but also its top polluter and main threat to ambitious climate goals. READ  

Hitler painting goes under the hammer
Photo: DPA

Hitler painting goes under the hammer

A watercolour painted by a young Adolf Hitler a century ago went under the hammer for €130,000 ($161,000) Saturday at an auction in the southern German city of Nuremberg. READ  

Germany to drop probe into US spying on Merkel
Photo: DPA

Germany to drop probe into US spying on Merkel

Germany is dropping a probe into the alleged tapping of Chancellor Angela Merkel's mobile phone by US spies, due to a lack of evidence, magazine Focus said Saturday. READ  

German FM: Iran nuclear talks 'completely open'
Photo: DPA

German FM: Iran nuclear talks 'completely open'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday that the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with six world powers was "completely open". READ  

New bird flu case in Germany
Photo: DPA

New bird flu case in Germany

A worrying new strain of bird flu has been observed for the first time in a wild bird in northern Germany, the agriculture ministry said Saturday. READ  

Anti-foreigner protesters rally in Berlin
Photo: DPA

Anti-foreigner protesters rally in Berlin

About 500 protesters, among them neo-Nazis and angry local residents, protested in the German capital on Saturday against the construction of a centre for refugees seeking political asylum. READ  

Radicalized Germans join jihadist cause
Iraqi fighters near Tikrit. Photo: DPA

Radicalized Germans join jihadist cause

Hundreds of Germans have left their home country to fight alongside jihadists in Syria and Iraq, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said. READ  

Germany frees female Russian spy early
Photo: DPA

Germany frees female Russian spy early

A Russian spy, jailed in Germany with her husband last year, has been freed early and allowed to return home, media reports said Friday, suggesting a possible prisoner swap. READ  

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge
Andreas Van Knorre being transported by Singapore police. Photo: Wallace Woon/DPA

Germans face flogging after Singapore charge

Two German men were charged Saturday with breaking into a Singapore metro depot and spray-painting graffiti on a train, offences punishable by jail time and flogging with a cane. READ  

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard
The Museum of Fine Arts in Bern. Photo: Gian Ehrenzeller/DPA

Last-minute lawsuit filed over Nazi-era art hoard

A relative of late German art collector Cornelius Gurlitt lodged a claim Friday for his inheritance, a Nazi-era art hoard which he has bequested to a Swiss museum, a spokesman said. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Win your Christmas list: €250 at Marks & Spencer
Photo: DPA
Politics
Can 'sorry' ever be enough for the Linke?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
Offer: Unlimited airmiles through December 19th
Sponsored Article
Ever wanted to try out home exchange?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Tonight we're gonna party like it's 1989
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
National
Which city is the worst for car crashes?
Photo: DPA
National
The folly of the foreigner road charge
Photo: DPA
National
The man who stopped Germany's trains
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
How to replace retiring baby boomers
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Finger slicer's insurance scam fails
Photo: DPA
Gallery
See how Berlin has changed in 22 photos
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Want to study in Germany? These are the subjects to choose
Sponsored Article
International School on the Rhine: a legacy
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,226
jobs available
The Local Spain is hiring!
The Local is seeking a new editor for our site in Spain to join our growing team of internationally-minded, driven, ambitious and clued-up journalists
Click here for the full job description
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd