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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Germany

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Germany, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 82,200,000
Capital: Berlin
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Despite steady industrial relations, some employers continue to have

anti-unions attitude including union discrimination and bargaining with

yellow unions with few members and low representativeness. The main area

of concern remains the lack of trade union rights for civil servants.

Trade union rights in law

While the basic trade union guarantees are in place, certain problems exist. The Basic Law guarantees freedom of association. There are no pre-established criteria for representativity, but once a trade union is established its representativity can still be challenged in court. While the right to collective bargaining is recognised, a certain "grey area" exists since collective agreements are limited to work-related issues while matters pertaining to managing the business can not be bargained upon. Furthermore, although collective agreements can cover the working conditions of public employees (Angestellte), all civil servants (Beamte) are denied the right to bargain collectively. Civil servants are also excluded from the right to strike, something the ILO has commented upon since 1959. All means of peaceful negotiation must have been exhausted before any legal strike can be called. The employers may also grant a special allowance to those choosing not to strike.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: In September, Chancellor Angela Merkel was returned to power, as her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which won the largest number of seats, was able, with its sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), to form a majority coalition with the pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP). Its economy being highly dependent on exports, Germany was strongly hit by the global financial crisis and entered into recession.

Collective bargaining: Germany has a long tradition of collective bargaining. However, in many sectors exemption clauses have been agreed between the social partners that allow companies to undercut collective agreements in certain circumstances in order to safeguard employment. Wherever concessions were made on wages, employment guarantees were provided in return. One problem is the wage and social dumping resulting from collective agreements signed by yellow unions, with few members and low representativeness. This practice is, however, gradually being questioned by the courts.

Discrimination against trade union members: There is no systematic discrimination by the state in Germany; however, there have been repeated cases of anti-union discrimination by employers. This can include dismissals, demotions, transfers and discrimination in recruitment of trade union activists, particularly when they want to establish works councils. The "Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache" (German Language Association) selected the term "infected by works councils" ("betriebsratsverseucht") as "worst term of the year" in 2009. The term represents an attitude "which has unfortunately become widespread", as the spokesperson explained to the jury. The jury had heard the term on a TV programme, during which an employee of the building chain Bauhaus reported that the term was used by department managers when colleagues from a subsidiary with a works council wanted to move to one without any workers' representation.

Anti-union employers: Regardless of a rich tradition of trade unionism, collective bargaining and workplace representation, there are plenty of companies that are quite hostile to trade unions. In these cases, external trade union representatives, for instance, are not granted access to the workplace and employers engage in anti-union propaganda.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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