Unions: collective bargaining dispute - compromise after long struggles?

After massive warning strikes and long struggles at the negotiating table, the moment of truth is approaching for unions and employers.

Unions: collective bargaining dispute - compromise after long struggles?

After massive warning strikes and long struggles at the negotiating table, the moment of truth is approaching for unions and employers. This Wednesday is the last day of negotiations so far - in the Potsdam negotiation hotel it could end with a breakthrough for the 2.5 million employees of the federal and local governments.

Will peace return after many days of strikes? An overview of the status of a heated collective bargaining round:

What makes the current collective bargaining dispute special?

"There's real pressure on the boiler now," said Verdi boss Frank Werneke weeks ago. The country was already in the middle of the inflation and energy price crisis when Verdi and the civil servants' association dbb put forward their demands in October.

The unions responded by demanding 10.5 percent more wages, but at least 500 euros more. The municipalities immediately calculated that it would cost them 15.4 billion euros to implement the requirement. The federal government estimates 1.4 billion euros for this, plus around 4.7 billion euros if such a degree is transferred to civil servants.

What is particularly important to the trade unions?

Many employees, for example in day-care centers, swimming pools or garbage disposal, are currently only just getting paid, as was repeatedly heard in many interviews during the strikes. In January and February, too, consumer prices were 8.7 percent above the level of the same month last year.

Now the deal should be enough to offset persistently high inflation. "And it's sustainable and permanent and not just one-time," says dbb boss Ulrich Silberbach.

What sparked the biggest argument?

Werneke described "a socially balanced collective agreement, a social component, a minimum amount" as "the most important thing for the employees". 500 euros more every month. The chief negotiator for the municipalities, Karin Welge, Mayor of Gelsenkirchen, opposed such a minimum amount from the outset.

Her argument: "We are already having difficulties convincing employees to take on managerial positions." This becomes even more difficult when the gap between lower and upper wages shrinks.

What else do employers argue with?

With the ever more numerous tasks of the municipalities. "We have to shape the traffic turnaround, we have to carry out climate adaptation measures, we have to do heat planning, we have to hire new employees," said Welge. "Putting it all together will not be easy." According to Welge, a complete enforcement of the union demands would make everything more difficult.

What do the unions say about this?

The municipalities do not give a uniform picture financially - there are rich and poor. Overall, the municipalities had generated a surplus of billions last year, emphasized Werneke. Poorer municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate or Saarland, for example, are not helped even by a narrow collective bargaining agreement - they need to pay off their old debts.

What is still on the negotiating table?

It's also about the term - the unions are demanding 12 months. According to their offer from February, the employers wanted a term of 27 months. Above all, the question of possible one-off payments is controversial. In February, employers once offered 1,500 and then another 1,000 euros as "inflation compensation money".

Werneke, on the other hand, castigated one-off payments as a "flash in the pan" and Silberbach as "scorched earth". The linear increase offered by employers in February is 5 percent in two stages.

What scenarios are there for the collective bargaining round?

Increase, one-off payments, minimum amount - both sides could reach a compromise. You could also postpone the negotiations again, but it would probably not be any easier then, according to the negotiators.

If it fails, the unions could also aim for a ballot on a regular industrial action with forced strikes. But there is also the instrument of arbitration. One side, for example the employer, could declare the talks failed, rely on outside help - and call arbitration.

How would the stratification work?

According to fixed rules and deadlines. An arbitration commission would be convened, and the peace obligation would come into effect - warning strikes would be ruled out until after Easter. The chairmen of the arbitration commission would be the former Prime Minister of Saxony Georg Milbradt from the employers' side and the former Bremen State Councilor Hans-Henning Lühr for the trade unions.

As the example of the most recent comprehensive strikes in the public sector shows, arbitration does not necessarily bring about a breakthrough. In 1992 an arbitrator's verdict was not accepted - around ten days of widespread strikes followed.

What is the further willingness to strike today?

Whether bus drivers, nurses, educators, garbage and sewage workers, tram drivers or employees at airports - employees have shown a great desire to go on strike for months. In surveys, large parts of the population expressed understanding for them - and for the argument that many public servants tend to be underpaid. Verdi sees itself strengthened by the massive warning strikes of the past few weeks - and has recorded over 70,000 entries in the past three months.

When Verdi boss Werneke is up for re-election at his union's national congress in September, good wage agreements and successful mobilization will also count. And when the accusation that Verdi pulled out the big cutlery early on in the collective bargaining dispute, Werneke said in an interview: "I would say we just pulled out a knife and fork." So Verdi is ready to escalate.