As many campaign posters in Germany currently indicate, the political parties running for election are promising to ensure better wages and better working conditions.
However, what sounds nice also has a hitch: It’s not political parties, but rather the social partners, i.e. management and labor representatives, who shape the working world, and who also find a fair balance of interests when it comes to wages in Germany.
The social partners are simply closer to the topic
In my industry, employers are extremely keen to play a part in shaping the working environment in Germany. We want to tackle megatrends such as demographics and digitalization together with our social partners.
Politicians can provide support in many different areas. However, issues regarding the working world are primarily handled independently by the collective bargaining partners.
To put it a little more formally: the subsidiarity principle applies in Germany. Statutory intervention in the competence areas of the collective bargaining
parties must remain an exception. If it is nevertheless politically desired, then the collective agreements must have extensive escape clauses. This will permit companies with collective agreements to deviate from statutory rules, strengthening the system of collective agreements and collective bargaining autonomy. And above all, it will ensure that rules are better tailored to the requirements of an industry, provided that the unions and employers agree.
“As German chemical industry employers, we are calling for more room for maneuver for the collective bargaining partners – we are closer to the topic than legislators are.”
Privilege and responsibility at the same time
What first may sound like a privilege for companies with collective agreements is at the same time a big responsibility. Employers and unions must also be allowed to define the working conditions in their industry themselves. For this, we need strong professional associations on both sides, and the political will for modern and reliable agreements.
If the collective bargaining partners do not succeed in establishing exhaustive regulations for their sectors, then the legislator can fill this gap. The most prominent example of this recently was the setting of a statutory minimum wage in Germany.
Collective bargaining autonomy will prevail if politicians
- Interfere as little as possible in the jurisdiction of the collective bargaining partners
- Create the necessary room for maneuver if a statutory regulatory is introduced.
I think it’s good that the German CDU/CSU and SPD parties want to continue to support efforts to strengthen the collective bargaining process along with the legal privileges accorded to industrial relations. Collective agreements will primarily be fostered if and only if those companies with collective agreements can apply the deviation. This is where the political parties should support companies with collective agreements to an even greater extent. At the end of the day, this will also strengthen our social market economy.