In the German steel industry, working time regulations have been agreed for the first time for the upcoming conversion towards climate neutrality. The rules are part of a collective bargaining agreement between IG Metall and the Steel Employers' Association for the northwest German steel industry, which the collective bargaining parties agreed on Saturday morning in Düsseldorf.
In addition to a 3,000 euro inflation compensation bonus and a wage increase of 5.5 percent from 2025, the collective agreement also includes a collective agreement to secure employment. It is intended to be used if fewer workers are required due to the planned transformation. This applies, for example, to coking plants, whose coke will one day no longer be needed in hydrogen-powered steel production plants.
The agreement was reached in the 5th round of negotiations after a marathon negotiation lasting around 14 hours in Düsseldorf. It is considered a pilot degree for the steel industry.
32-hour week possible without full wage compensation
On the one hand, the agreement provides for regulations for companies or parts of companies in which the transformation creates “pressure on employment”. Then, based on the standard working time of 35 hours applicable in the industry, the working time can be reduced by three hours to 32 hours. IG Metall was unable to enforce its demand for full wage compensation, but was able to achieve payment for 33 hours.
The collective agreement also provides for regulations in the event of additional requirements, for example due to the temporary parallel operation of old and new technologies. The working hours can then be increased by up to three hours. The current regulation on overtime pay will then be applied.
A 33.6-hour week without wage compensation is also possible
On the other hand, the agreement provides for the possibility in all companies of reducing individual working hours from 35 to 33.6 hours, but without wage compensation and only if there are no operational reasons to the contrary. Only those who are 60 years of age and older and work shifts will be paid for 34.1 hours from 2025. This age limit is to be lowered by one year in each of the following two years. The collective bargaining parties want to evaluate the regulation in 2027.
IG Metall negotiator Knut Giesler expressed satisfaction with the result. An important goal had been achieved. "We give employees security during the transformation. If there is pressure on employment, the remaining work can be distributed across several shoulders by reducing working hours with partial pay compensation." If there is an individual desire to shorten working hours, a start has been made.
The employers rated the regulations as “very positive”. Reiner Blaschek, chairman of the steel employers' association, emphasized that, together with IG Metall, we succeeded in creating a tailor-made regulation for working hours and securing employment during the ecological transformation. The regulation on individual working hours gives employees more flexibility. “It was important to us that, as a rule, no wage compensation is paid for this.”
Compensation bonus is paid in stages
The compensation bonus will be paid in stages: 1,500 euros will be given in January, then 150 euros each in the months of February to November. Trainees receive a total of 1,800 euros, also on a staggered basis. After the salary increase from January 2025, the collective wage agreement will run until September 30, 2025. The union originally entered the negotiations with a demand for a wage increase of 8.5 percent over a period of twelve months.
The employers nevertheless expressed skepticism: "The agreed wage increase puts a maximum strain on the companies' options given the rapidly deteriorating conditions for the German steel industry," said Blaschek. Giesler, who is also the district manager of IG Metall North Rhine-Westphalia, spoke of a “sustainable increase in income”.
Warning strikes involving tens of thousands of employees
The peace obligation ended at the end of November. Since then, tens of thousands of steel workers have taken part in warning strikes lasting several hours. In the past few days, the union has called for 24-hour warning strikes, including in Duisburg, the largest steel location in Europe.
Around 68,000 people are employed in the steel and iron industry in North Rhine-Westphalia, Bremen and Lower Saxony. In the East German steel industry with around 8,000 employees, the 5th round of negotiations is scheduled for December 18th.
Collective bargaining has not yet begun in the Saarland steel industry with around 15,000 employees. The peace obligation ends there at the end of February. In addition to Saarland, the tariff area also includes two plants in Wetzlar (Hesse) and Kehl (Baden-Württemberg).