Commentary public service: all right, but not fair

A great many wheels were at a standstill – and so Verdi has reached a decent wage settlement. But one group is still in danger of being left behind.

Okay deal: Verdi boss Bsirske shows the level. Photo: dpa

It was a fierce but short wage dispute. It took just three rounds of negotiations to reach an agreement in the public sector that both sides could live with.

Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière rightly described the compromise reached as a "good and fair result". The fact that the federal government and the local authorities were prepared to accept it so quickly is probably due in no small part to Verdi’s muscle flexing.

With its warning strikes last week, the union impressively demonstrated to the employers, but also to itself, that it is still capable of fighting in the public sector. A great many wheels came to a standstill because the strong arm of Verdi wanted it that way.

The result of this demonstration of power is a collective bargaining result that is "in the top group of this year’s agreements," as Verdi boss Frank Bisirske sums up with satisfaction.

Minimum amount decisive

In fact, the wage settlement is gratifying because it represents a step in the right direction. The union has learned: In contrast to the collective bargaining round of two years ago, Verdi has insisted on a social component this time.

Anyone who declares the achievement of social justice to be one of their goals should also align their own collective bargaining policy accordingly. This means that the aim must be to improve the economic situation of those who need it most.

That is why the minimum amount of 90 euros now agreed with the employers is so important. It gives the lower and middle pay groups an above-average real wage increase, which they deserve. Without it, the lowest income group would only be able to record an increase of just over 46 euros.

The fact that the wages of people who previously had less than 1,600 euros gross in their pay packets will now increase not only by the generally agreed 3 percent, but by around 5.8 percent this year, is more than appropriate.

Top earners benefit

Despite the minimum amount, however, this agreement also remains unfair, because those who already have more benefit the most. This is because the percentage logic has been softened, but not abolished.

This means that top earners in the public sector will not receive 90 euros more per month this year, but up to 195 euros. Incidentally, the difference between them and the original union demand is much smaller. Their monthly salary increase lags behind by only about 35 euros, but for low-wage workers by about 57 euros.

The consequence that the unions should draw: If they don’t want the gap in wage levels to widen further, they should finally say goodbye to fighting over percentages and instead fight for fixed sums. That would be fairer.

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