People in Germany will also face a conflict-filled tariff year in 2024. The now high inflation has left a deep mark on the real wages of dependent employees and at the same time there are calls for shorter working hours in several sectors.
The unions are ready to renegotiate the working conditions for almost 12 million employees, as the WSI collective bargaining archive of the Hans Boeckler Foundation has compiled. The heavyweights next year will be the construction industry, temporary work, chemicals and, in the fall, the metal and electrical industry, which alone accounts for 3.6 million employees.
In addition, there are a whole series of collective bargaining disputes that have been postponed from 2023 into the new year. This includes the negotiations on retail and wholesale, which repeatedly led to warning strikes before Christmas.
Formula "Money or Leisure"
The GDL train drivers' union has also not achieved its goal on the railway despite several warning strikes, but has already set the course for further industrial action through a strike vote, which could start from January 8th. In what is likely to be his last collective bargaining dispute, the outgoing GDL boss Claus Weselsky is primarily concerned with weekly working hours in shift work, which should be reduced from 38 to 35 hours, which the railway has so far strictly rejected in view of the shortage of skilled workers. At DB's competitor Netinera (including Metronome, ODEG, Vlexx), the GDL is further ahead: the gradual introduction of the 35-hour week will begin there at the beginning of 2025.
In the iron and steel industry, the collective bargaining partners have created opportunities for shorter weekly working hours in the short term. The background is the upcoming ecological restructuring of the energy-intensive industry, which, according to the union's assessment, will lead to significantly less workload in the middle of the decade. The reduction in working hours in steel is intended to keep skilled workers in the company. There will not be the full wage compensation previously demanded.
For other key industrial sectors such as automobiles or mechanical engineering, the requirement for a 32-hour week is still a thing of the future. But the new IG Metall chairman Christiane Benner sees the “short full-time” as an ideal to strive for, which would then be easier for many women to cope with. The “money or free time” formula is already part of some collective agreements, which Verdi, among others, has put on the agenda for Lufthansa’s ground staff for 2024.
Higher fees required
In addition to working hours, significantly higher wages are required in order to slowly make up for the real wage losses of previous years. The Bundesbank has already registered significantly higher collective bargaining agreements than usual in 2023, but these were heavily influenced by the tax-free inflation compensation payments. But even without this instrument, higher permanent wage increases were agreed than before the high inflation, according to the November monthly report. However, at 3.0 percent, this increase in the summer quarter was only half a percentage point more than in the spring.
Despite the comparatively high wage agreements with an average nominal increase of 5.6 percent, many employees remained below the general price increase in 2023. Only when the individual tax and duty advantages of the high one-off payments were taken into account was inflation exceeded in most cases, explains the head of the WSI tariff archive, Thorsten Schulten. The need to catch up is immense: after three years of real wage losses, purchasing power is currently at the level of 2016.