Population: 82,500,000
Capital: Berlin
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

No civil servants have the right to strike, irrespective of their function.

Trade union rights in law

The Basic Law guarantees freedom of association. Minimum standards are provided for in separate acts, rather than a single labour code.

The Basic Law recognises the right to bargain collectively and agreements are governed by the Act on Collective Agreements. Collective agreements are binding for members of the trade union and employers' association concerned.

Consultation and information rights: Workers are able to participate in management decision-making through works' councils, which are responsible for supervising the implementation of the union's collective agreement in a workplace. Workers' consultation and information rights are in line with European Union legislation. Members of works' councils do not have to be union representatives, although more than half are union members according to figures from 2006.

The co-determination arrangements in large companies allow the workers' representatives on the supervisory boards of groups to have a say on general company policy, though not ultimately to prevent mass dismissals or company transfers, owing to the majority of seats being held by management.

No right to strike for civil servants: The principal limitation on workers' rights is the denial of the right to strike to civil servants in public services, including teachers. No civil servants have the right to strike, irrespective of their function. A related problem is that employees with civil servant status are still denied collective bargaining rights. There has been no change here despite repeated criticism from the ILO of this breach of Convention 98. Those people employed in public services who are covered by collective agreements do, however, enjoy full freedom of association. The ILO has repeatedly reminded the government of Germany, since 1959, that the restrictions applying to civil servants are not in line with Convention 87, and has asked it to change its legislation to recognise the right of public servants, not exercising authority in the name of the State, to have recourse to strike action. Most civil servants' and professional organisations, unlike the member unions of the DGB, are still opposed to the right to strike for civil servants, so as to avoid risking the loss of their acquired "privileges" (such as the state's obligation to support them financially and their protection against dismissal, etc.).

The trade unions were closely involved in a comprehensive modernisation of the legislation governing the civil service under the Schröder (Social Democrat) administration, and it was hoped that this would take ILO recommendations into account. No progress has been made since the coalition government came to power in November 2005 however.

Trade union rights in practice

Collective bargaining: Germany has a strong tradition of collective bargaining which in 2004 allowed for the negotiation of job saving deals, particularly with the big car manufacturers. This situation continued in 2005, although it at times meant major concessions by the unions, including pay cuts, limited job cuts and flexible working time, to preserve as many jobs as they could.

Collective agreements were reached for major sectors such as the steel industry, the retail sector and the private insurance sector in 2006. There has been a shift however away from detailed agreements covering a whole sector to framework agreements that set the basis for differentiated negotiations at company level.

Information and consultation rights: As yet there has been a failure to implement the EU Directive on information and consultation rights for workers in the event of company transfers.

Violations in 2006

Swedish retailer accused of bullying union activists: The Ver.di union accused the Swedish retailer Hennes and Mauritz of systematically undermining union rights in its German stores and bullying union activists. The company's Swedish headquarters said they took the criticism very seriously, and that they considered such behaviour unacceptable.

This 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.