Gesamtmetall president Martin Kannegiesser, whose organisation represents 6,300 German companies, said that with the economic crisis still hovering, the industry was keeping on 700,000 more workers than it needed for current production levels.
“How can you talk of wage increases in a situation in which 700,000 jobs are on the line? It just doesn't fit,” he said.
The metalworkers' union, IG Metall, has for the first time in its history come to the negotiating table without any concrete pay claim proposal, but it is demanding at least a real-terms rise.
It is trading off its customary wage rise demands for job security instead, insisting employers make it their priority to avoid layoffs. IG Metall boss Berthold Huber has already suggested a one-off payment as a compromise.
Yet even without “costly” job security measures such as the kurzarbeit scheme – in which firms put their workers on shorter hours rather than laying them off – the scope for wage rises would be strictly limited, Kannegiesser countered.
“In fact it just doesn't exist,” he said.
Firms could manage their current production levels with 20 to 25 percent fewer workers, he said.
At the same time, he did not rule out a compromise, going on to say that employers wanted to bring the negotiations to a quick close, if possible even in February.
“We're well on the way,” he said.
Unions and employers in the states of Baden-Württemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia – states that are traditionally test-cases for the rest of the country – are set to continue the prickly collective bargaining negotiations over a wage rise next week.