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Germany: a ruling which revives controversy on industry-wide minimum wage

par Planet labor - 01 Mars 2008

Since Berlin’s Administrative Court declared, on March 7, that the new minimum wage which came into effect on January 1, 2008 in postal services was "illegal", the controversy on this topic resumed with even greater intensity.

During a debate at the Bundestag on March 12, the right wing of the conservative party and the FDP asked the SPD Employment Minister to revise the law. As for the Deutsche Post’s private competitors, they threaten to ask for several million euros in damages.

The Deutsche Post’s private competitors – TNT and PIN – and the employers’ organization BdKEP referred the matter to Berlin’s administrative court, which ruled that the minimum wage negotiated by the services’ union Ver.di and by an employers’ organization run by the Deutsche Post, which the Federal Employment Minister extended to the entire branch, was “illegal”. Indeed, the judges say that this wage, between €9 and 9.8 gross an hour, can only apply to companies which are not covered by a collective agreement. Yet, the post’s private competitors signed, in December 2007, with the GNBZ, the young trade union of the postal sector’s new companies, created for the occasion, their own minimum wage, which amounts to €7.5 in western Germany and to €6.5 in the east. According to the Court, the Employment Minister “overrode his commission” by imposing a minimum wage which nullifies another wage agreement.

Trouble within the Grand Coalition. This ruling immediately revived the controversy which tore the Grand Coalition apart before the minimum wage came into effect in the postal sector. This is a “victory for competition” said Michael Glos, CSU Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology. During a stormy debate at the Bundestag on March 12, the right wing of the Conservative Party (CDU/CSU) and the liberal party asked Olaf Scholz, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, to revise this law which “consolidates the Deutsche Post’s monopoly” and to give up his plan to introduce a minimum wage in every branch. Defending Olaf Scholz, Franz Thönnes, SPD State Secretary, agreed with the Minister’s position: 1/ the ruling is not final yet, because the Minister lodged an appeal. 2/ this ruling is erroneous and contradicts prior judgments rendered by the Federal Labor Court and by the Federal Administrative Court. 3/ the government will keep on working to introduce minimum wage in every branch in accordance with a decision the Grand Coalition took in the summer of 2007.

The generalization of minimum wage questioned. However, Berlin’s ruling puts him in a difficult position. The lawyers of the BdKEP employers’ organization already sent a letter to the Minister, asking him to cancel his decree and threatening, if necessary, to ask for millions of euros in damages. Since the minimum wage “dictated” by the German post came into effect, about 2.700 jobs were cut at PIN AG and the group was put into receivership. On the other hand, the decree should have an immediate impact on the controversy within the Grand Coalition about the introduction of a legal minimum wage in the temporary work sector. The conservative party says that it would be “useless” because almost 100% of agency workers are already covered by industry-wide agreements. The decree will help the party find more arguments.

Verdi strikes back. Saying that the decree was “totally incomprehensible”, the Ver.di union decided to counter attack. On March 11, it lodged a complaint for “bribery” against the young GNBZ union, arguing that it is a “pseudo-union” created by the post’s competitors to try to prevent the introduction of the national minimum wage.

Planet Labor, March 13, 2008, No. 080205 – www.planetlabor.com

 
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Auteur(s) : Planet labor

Mots clés : Planet labor, salaires, revenus, rémunération, salaire minimum, Allemagne, CSU, SPD, Olaf Scholz, unions, verdi