World Economy

Germany’s Collective Bargaining Rules in Focus

Germany’s Collective Bargaining Rules in FocusGermany’s Collective Bargaining Rules in Focus

Germans famously take two things very seriously: Their work, and rules. That makes rules governing work doubly important. A fight over collective bargaining rules has huge implications for Europe’s powerhouse economy.

The past year has been one of repeated strikes by small profession-specific unions, resulting in outsize negative impacts on the German economy, DW reported.

A seemingly unending series of strikes by train drivers’ and airline pilots’ unions has been particularly disruptive. Spurred on by an angry public and by rail-freight-dependent companies struggling to ship their goods, the federal parliament passed a collective bargaining law on Friday that the government hopes will put an end to the phenomenon of small unions holding the country to ransom.

The new law was championed by Labor Minister Andrea Nahles - a prominent figure in the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the soft-leftish minority partner in the governing coalition dominated by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

The law specifies that if workers in a given category - machinists, say, or train drivers - are represented by more than one union at a given corporation, then whichever union has the largest total number of members employed at that corporation will be the principal negotiating partner across the table from management. The contract it agrees with management will be binding - not only on its own members, but on those of other unions as well.

A key implication is that German courts will be in a position to forbid strikes by smaller unions when these contravene the collective bargaining framework set out by the new law.

“Pretty much everyone agrees that cooperation between different unions representing workers at the same company makes sense,” said Thorsten Schulten, a labor economist at the Hans Bockler Foundation in Dusseldorf. “DGB, the German trade union council, certainly sees it that way.”