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“Violation of collective bargaining autonomy”: lawsuit against minimum wage increase?

As of December 30, 2021 11:43 a.m.

The federal government wants to raise the minimum wage to twelve euros as quickly as possible. The employers criticize the handling of the lower wage limit and are considering a lawsuit. Meanwhile, there are still violations.

Germany’s employers are considering taking legal action against the law announced by the traffic light government for a minimum wage of twelve euros. “Our problem is the way there,” said employer president Rainer Dulger of the dpa news agency. “As the federal government intends to do at the moment, I consider it a gross violation of collective bargaining autonomy.” Whether, when and how legal action is taken against the federal government’s plans depends on when the measure is implemented, said Dulger. “The autonomy of collective bargaining is constitutionally protected.”

Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil (SPD) wants to present a law at the beginning of the year for a rapid increase in the lower wage limit to twelve euros. On January 1, the minimum wage will rise from 9.60 to 9.82 euros and on July 1 to 10.45 euros. Dulger criticized the proposed law as a breach of the government’s promise that “the minimum wage commission is the guardian of the minimum wage and not politics”.

Minimum wage as a plaything in politics?

On the day Olaf Scholz (SPD) was elected as the new Federal Chancellor, Heil had already announced that a law would be swiftly submitted to raise the minimum wage. This should come this year. A key campaign promise made by Scholz was a minimum wage of twelve euros. According to this, up to ten million workers should benefit from it. The Federal Statistical Office assumes almost 7.2 million people – that would be 92 percent of those employed in the low-wage sector.

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There are around 8.6 million employees according to a study by the trade union-related Economic and Social Science Institute (WSI) of the Hans Böckler Foundation. Two thirds of them are women. In addition, there are significant wage increases, especially for employees who are not bound by collective bargaining agreements. These are roughly three times as likely to be affected by wages below twelve euros gross per hour as employees who are paid according to the tariff.

In the short term, however, employers are not concerned with the twelve euros, but with how the new federal government deals with the minimum wage commission and collective bargaining, stressed President Dulger. “The minimum wage as a political plaything is the last thing our social partnership needs,” he warned. It is highly questionable how useful the minimum wage commission is if, in every future legislature, politicians say: “We’ll change the minimum wage as we want, and then we’ll reinstate the commission.”

Craft suggests compromise

Since the introduction of the lower wage limit in 2015 at a level of EUR 8.50, the minimum wage commission, together with representatives of employers and trade unions, had specified the steps to increase. In the coalition agreement, the SPD, Greens and FDP had promised that after the one-time adjustment to twelve euros, the committee would decide again. In an interview with the “Rheinische Post” shortly before Christmas, Heil had once again given an assurance that the future steps would then “follow the recommendations of the independent minimum wage commission”.

Crafts President Hans Peter Wollseifer made a similar statement to Dulger. “Should the minimum wage of twelve euros come in 2022, that would make around 200 collective agreements that were negotiated between the social partners – that is, employers and unions – obsolete,” he told the dpa.

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The only conceivable way out of this dilemma is to set the twelve euros as a target – “but not for the year 2022”. “That you define the term of the twelve euros, but in such a way that the minimum wage commission can support it.” The increase already decided in the middle of the year is already within sight of the twelve euros, said Wollseifer. “They would probably be reached by the end of 2023 anyway.”

DGB sees opportunities for an agreement

The chairman of the German Federation of Trade Unions, Reiner Hoffmann, sees opportunities for a consensus on the way to the twelve euros: “We have a common interest in not questioning the functionality of the minimum wage commission.” In his opinion, it should be possible to “find a joint solution as to how the twelve euros can now be reached quickly.”

Once this level has been reached, the previous mechanisms should continue to apply, said the DBG chairman. “It is clear to the unions: The minimum wage is always only the second-best solution – after strong collective bargaining with good collective wages.” At the same time, Wollseifer warned: “If the minimum wage becomes the plaything of politics, then the members of the minimum wage commission should really think about whether it makes sense to continue working in this commission.”

Many violations of the minimum wage continued

Meanwhile, the number of investigations into violations of the payment of minimum wages in 2021 appears to have remained high. The financial control of illegal employment (FKS) of the customs administration initiated a total of 3,083 investigative proceedings by November 30th and imposed 12.5 million euros in fines, as the newspapers of the Funke media group said today, citing a response from the Federal Ministry of Finance to a request from the SPD parliamentary group Bundestag reported.

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In view of the violations, the federal chairman of the construction union IG BAU, Robert Feiger, called for greater control pressure and warned that the problem would worsen if the minimum wage was raised to twelve euros in the coming year.

Minimum wage increase: employers threaten to sue

Kai Küstner, ARD Berlin, 30.12.2021 · 13:11

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