European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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9 June 2017

Strikes threaten across the German retail sector

The trade union Ver.di is mobilising workers in the retail sector in several states in Germany after the failure of negotiations for a new collective agreement. The union had formulated a series of demands that were not met by the employers' delegation.

These included a pay rise of 6% (or at least €1 per hour), leading to a minimum monthly gross wage of €1,900, and an increase of the training allowance (by an additional €100 per month). The union is seeking an agreement that is generally binding for the whole industry. Employers in the different states have so far offered pay rises of up to 1.5%.  

Collective bargaining in the retail sector normally leads to agreements that are then used as the reference point for the majority of the workforce in the sector. In, for instance, the state of North

Rhine Westphalia a collective agreement became the reference point for the wages of around 700,000 retail workers, although many workers (60%) are employed by companies that fall outside the scope of the agreement. A similar effect can be seen in other states. Ver.di's long-term strategy is to make future agreements generally binding for the whole industry, a method aimed at avoiding distortion of competition and preventing a rat race between companies to the detriment of workers’ pay and working conditions. Employers are only willing to move in this direction, however, if the unions agree to initiating a fundamental reform of the agreement.

At several demonstrations in Germany (Essen, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Mannheim, Heidelberg, Karlsruhe, Hannover and Bremen), Ver.di announced that the dismissive attitude of the employers towards the workers' requests could lead to strikes. In Bavaria, where there is a 500,000-strong workforce in the retail sector, a second bargaining round produced no result and workers organised a warning strike. In other states such as Baden-Wurttemberg (490,000 workers), Niedersachsen/Bremen (340,000 workers) and Hamburg (70,000 workers), the union also called warning strikes in companies like Amazon, Adveo, Alliance Healthcare, Dehner, Esprit, Feneberg, H&M, Hugendubel, Karstadt, Kaufhof, Kaufland, Lidl, Marktkauf, MediaMarkt and Metro C&C after unsuccessful negotiations. A new round of negotiations is planned for mid-June.

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