Unions are pugnacious just ahead of collective bargaining for the public sector. “The employees want to see action,” said the chairman of the civil servants’ association dbb, Ulrich Silberbach, of the German Press Agency in Berlin. Verdi boss Frank Werneke emphasized that the workforce could not be fobbed off with warm words. Negotiations for more than 2.5 million federal and local employees begin in Potsdam this Tuesday. Nationwide warning strikes are possible.

The incomes of garbage collectors, educators, nurses, lawyers and bus drivers, among others, are negotiated. Thousands of professions are affected – including firefighters, geriatric nurses, sewage treatment plant workers, foresters and doctors. The effects of warning strikes on citizens could be correspondingly large.

Nationwide warning strikes possible

At the turn of the year, Werneke had already reported on the unusually high level of commitment on the part of the employees in this collective bargaining round. “In the almost 22 years that I have been a member of the Verdi national board, I have never seen such determination on the part of the employees as today to actively participate in the collective bargaining movement,” said Werneke of the German Press Agency. Immediately after the start of the negotiations, the employees’ side was “capable of action”. Warning strikes would affect “the entire public service,” Werneke announced in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung.”

In the last wage round for federal and local authorities in 2020, clinics, daycare centers, local transport and savings banks were affected by walkouts and protests. At that time, the warning strikes were moderate compared to before, which was mainly due to precautionary measures taken because of the corona pandemic.

More than ten percent required

Verdi and dbb are demanding 10.5 percent more income, but at least 500 euros more per month. The Association of Municipal Employers’ Associations (VKA) had already described implementation as “simply not affordable” after the presentation of the demands in October. “We understand the concerns of employees in view of the current high inflation, but municipal employers are also in an extremely difficult situation,” said VKA President Karin Welge, SPD Mayor of Gelsenkirchen.

Federal Minister of the Interior Nancy Faeser (SPD), who is leading the negotiations on behalf of the federal government, said according to a statement on Monday: “The demands of the trade unions are high and they are facing a tight budget situation, especially in the municipalities.”

Inflation and reform pressure

In addition to inflation, the crisis-related increased demands in the public sector are among the special circumstances of these negotiations. There is a “long list of reforms at the expense of municipal employees,” Welge told the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”. The increased and expanded housing benefit and the citizen benefit introduced on January 1st bring about more effort.

Werneke also sees no reason to relax in the inflationary pressure, which is probably somewhat less than in 2022. The Verdi boss confirmed in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” that real wages would shrink by up to 14 percent without a wage increase. At the turn of the year he had still assumed 16 percent.

With an increase of 7.9 percent, the population in Germany experienced the strongest price shock since the founding of the Federal Republic. At the end of this year, Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) is now hoping for an inflation rate of less than five percent.

Billions in costs for municipalities and the federal government

Other union demands include a term of twelve months. Apprentices, students and interns should receive 200 euros more per month. dbb boss Silberbach called for a concrete offer in the first of three planned rounds of negotiations. From the point of view of the trade unions, the collective bargaining result should be transferred without any compromises to civil servants, judges and soldiers. For the employees of the federal and local governments, it is about the collective agreement for the public service (TVöD).

According to the VKA, the costs for the required wage increase for municipal employers would amount to around 15.4 billion euros. According to the Ministry of the Interior, this would result in additional costs of around 1.4 billion euros per year for the federal government, or 4.7 billion if transferred to civil servants, judges and soldiers. The third round of negotiations, which is expected to be decisive, is scheduled for March 27th to 29th.

The German Association of Towns and Municipalities called for a conclusion “with a sense of proportion”. General manager Gerd Landsberg warned the newspapers of the Funke media group that the financial situation of the municipalities was developing dramatically. “Of course, there will have to be an increase in wages, since employees are also suffering from high inflation,” he said. “At the same time, however, one focus should also be on further improving working conditions, for example with even more flexible working time models, so that it may be possible to persuade more part-time employees to increase their working hours.”