German union takes action for payrise and work-life balance

German metalworkers are backing up their demand for higher wages and reduced hours with a campaign of warning strikes.

On 8 January, some 160,000 workers at more than 80 companies, including Volkswagen, Porsche, Mercedes Benz, Daimler, Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, Thales, Airbus, Honeywell, Bombardier and Atos stopped work to take part in demonstrations.

The industrial action by members of the IG Metall union comes as bargaining for a collective agreement for the 3.9 million workers in the metal and electronics sector gets underway with employers’ federation Gesamtmetall.

Against a background of economic recovery and low unemployment, the union is seeking a radically new settlement for Germany’s industrial workforce. With a 6% wage increase, it wants workers to benefit from rising productivity and have a better work-life balance. This would mean the right to a 28-hour working week to combine care for children or ageing parents, and to return to full time employment after two years. The union is also campaigning for an additional €200 carers’ allowance. As gender roles change, reduced hours would allow more women to enter the workforce and more men to take on caring responsibilities.

“There will only be a collective bargaining agreement with all three components: a decent increase in pay, a choice to reduce working hours for a limited period, and grants that make working time reduction for parenting, nursing and health possible for everyone,” IG Metall president Jörg Hoffman told a rally of 2,000 workers in Homburg, Saarland.

In the past, it has been companies that have demanded flexibility from their employees. Now IG Metall wants flexible working to benefit workers through work patterns that fit their family lives. If no progress is made in negotiations, the union is planning full-day strikes in key companies.

 “The German economy is doing well, and it is fair that workers should also benefit from productivity gains and have the right to flexibility,” added the Assistant General Secretary of European Industry Federation IndustriAll, Kemal Özkan. “What is really historic is the demand to reduce working hours to 28 per week. It is important that workers benefit from the changes that Industry 4.0 brings to the world of work. This demand by IG Metall shows unions leading the way in building an economy that works for everyone.”