As of this week, it is forbidden to just meet two or three friends. Private gatherings are only permitted with a maximum of one person from another household. This is what the federal and state governments decided on January 5th. Gatherings at professional meetings, in workshops and factories, on the other hand, are still allowed – and the coronavirus continues to rage. Most recently, the number of newly infected people per week was six times as high as in April. Now there are increasing demands for stricter rules, for a right to work from home, for a hard lockdown. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to discuss how to proceed with the federal states next week and not until the end of January. We asked the trade unions how they, as employee organizations, assess the resolutions so far.
Ironically, there is harsh criticism from the education system, the importance of which is constantly emphasized across parties. “Politicians cheat around clear decisions” and put responsibility on schools, daycare centers and parents, said Ilka Hoffmann, board member of the education union GEW. The federal and state governments have only agreed on the vague wording that children should be cared for at home “whenever possible”. In concrete terms, this means that teachers often do not know how many children are coming to class. When in doubt, some parents would have to decide to “take a risk” and send their children to school, says Hoffmann. For example, because they have to go to work themselves. Or because the amount of material has not been reduced – although the compulsory attendance is suspended and the pandemic makes teaching and learning more difficult. In many places there are too few FFP2 masks and air filters, and there is still a lack of digital devices for distance learning.
Politicians must establish clear rules, the union demands, such as the level of incidence at which schools switch to distance learning. The infection rate in the region should also be taken into account when day-care centers are opened, and there must be enough employees to form and look after the children in core groups with permanent staff, says GEW board member Björn Köhler.
Daycare workers belong to the occupational groups who have a particularly high risk of contracting the coronavirus. This is indicated by an evaluation by the AOK, and that is also plausible. Mass infections among slaughterhouse workers made headlines. Overall, however, it is completely unclear how many employees are infected with which work. “The data situation in Germany on the infection rate at work and elsewhere is poor,” says Hans-Martin von Gaudecker, professor of economics at the University of Bonn. “Representative data on the risk of infection would be required; these will probably only be available from the socio-economic panel in spring.”
Based on the experience in Asian countries, Gaudecker considers a “short, hard lockdown” to be sensible in order to reduce infections quickly and strongly. This could include more company closings and new home office rules, according to which supervisors have to justify if they refuse to work from home. Gaudecker is one of the more than 300 researchers who have signed the Contain Covid 19 declaration, in which they plead for “decisive action” in Europe to drastically reduce the number of infections.
Similar demands are now coming from politics. “We must finally go into a real lockdown,” Thuringia’s Prime Minister Bodo Ramelow (Die Linke) recently told the FAZ. Thorsten Frei, vice parliamentary group in the Bundestag, is now considering this: “We should ask ourselves the question of whether a complete lockdown of two to three weeks is ultimately better than an endless hanging game,” he told the “Spiegel”.
The German Trade Union Confederation (DGB) also considers it necessary that “all unnecessary contacts are restricted”. DGB boss Reiner Hoffmann is currently against closings of factories in a big way: “In order not to burden the already tense economy and to secure the employment of the people, factories should remain open while maintaining the occupational health and safety,” he said “nd – The week”. In his assessment, “the last ten months have shown that companies – apart from the meat industry – are not drivers of infection.”
IG Bau boss Robert Feiger also shows “understanding that politicians want to keep economic life going as far as possible in order to prevent another slump. In the end, this would also cost jobs ”. Above all, however, is the health of the employees.
For the construction industry, the bargaining parties agreed this week that the professional association should make FFP2 masks available on construction sites. Employees in slaughterhouses are now regularly tested for the corona virus, sometimes several times a week, says a spokeswoman for the NGG union.
The powerful IG Metall is also opposed to a hard lockdown: “In the companies with codetermination, our works councils have implemented hygiene concepts that effectively protect employees. Therefore, we do not consider large-scale company closings to be expedient at the moment, “said a spokesman. Instead, the hygiene measures should be strictly controlled and consistently enforced.
There is enough evidence for IG Metall that employees are adequately protected. So it is not apparent that infection clusters are forming anywhere. In addition, according to a survey by the union, a clear majority of employees are satisfied with the protective measures taken. However, the fact remains that nationwide the number of infections is currently very high and representative data on the risk of infection are missing.
The rejection of the trade unions is probably also due to the fact that employees not only have a risk of infection, but also a job risk, despite government aid such as short-time work benefits. For the second time, politicians have ordered closings for sectors such as the hospitality and retail sectors as well as for cultural institutions. The effects are dramatic for employees and companies, according to the NGG union with a view to the hospitality industry.
There is still no broad debate about how workers can be protected from unemployment in the event of a further, »hard lockdown«.
Instead of company closings, the DGB demands a right to work from home. On Friday, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Employer President Rainer Dulger and DGB boss Hoffmann jointly called for greater use of the home office. It is doubtful whether this will do anything. At the end of October, the federal and state governments “urgently” asked companies to enable home offices. In November, in a survey by the Hans Böckler Foundation, 14 percent of those in employment said they worked at home – and thus much less than in April when it was 27 percent. A binding regulation for home office planned by the SPD failed because of the CDU.
In order to better protect employees and children from infections, better livelihoods would also be helpful, so that parents, for example, do not feel compelled to send their children to school. For example, trade unionists are demanding that the loss of earnings be fully covered when parents look after their children at home because schools or daycare centers are closed.