1 – Irregular violations of rights
The ITUC Global Rights Index


The ITUC affiliate in Germany is the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB).

Germany ratified Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948) in 1957 and Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949) in 1956.

In practice

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Nationwide strikes and actions of 3,000 employees in German public service broadcasting18-11-2019

The global community of broadcasting unions affiliated to UNI Global Union stood in solidarity with colleagues on strike at German public broadcasters ARD and ZDF.

Around 3,000 employees of the German public broadcasters participated in strikes and actions nationwide on 18 September 2019. These actions followed a call from the UNI affiliate ver.di, which represents workers in the services sector. They were in response to the stalled collective bargaining with the national broadcasters. Many programs of the regional broadcasters belonging to the national broadcaster ARD (regional broadcasters such as WDR, SWR, MDR, SR, BR and NDR) went black.

Ver.di demanded a clear commitment to public service broadcasting and its special role in democracy that is more important than ever. The union feared that if conditions were further weakened, it would undermine the capacity of broadcasters to fulfil their public service mission.

UNI MEI supported ver.di and colleagues on strike at ARD and ZDF in sharing the concerns of colleagues that too many leaders in the public service institutions as well as in state governments and parliaments had bowed to populist pressure instead of standing up for and defending the independence of public service broadcasters.

Increase in employer interference19-06-2015

Unions and work councils have been reporting an increase in interference by employers in legitimate activities. For example, management of the Korean automobile producer Hyundai’s plant in Rüsselsheim tried to sack and to intimidate works council members. The representative union IG Metall filed a complaint with the National Contact Point of the OECD in Berlin for violation of the Guidelines for multinational enterprises. However, Hyundai refuses to engage in the mediation process that would help in resolving the dispute.
The company Neupack, which has plants in Hamburg and Rotenburg an der Wümme, continuously interfered in lawful strikes. After workers received no pay increases and paid sick leave over years, they unionised and went on strike demanding their rights. Management contracted migrant workers in order to replace the workers on strike and to undermine the effectiveness of the strike. Moreover, private detectives were hired to follow works council leaders whom the company tried to dismiss on the basis of their activism.

Yellow unions06-08-2014

There are cases where employers have established yellow unions in order to weaken independent unions. For example, the company Siemens invested 50 million Euros into the Syndicate of the independent works council (AUB) in order to create competition to the IG Metall (Metalworkers Union). The Chairman of the AUB was later imprisoned because of corruption and fiscal fraud. However, AUB is still active in companies like ALDI and HYUNDIA.

Refusal to bargain01-04-2013

In April 2013, 97 per cent of Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft members voted in favour of strike action at the Amazon plant in Leipzig. Management repeatedly refused to start wage negotiations and encouraged its employees to join work councils rather than trade unions. The company has 1,200 permanent and 800 temporary workers in Leipzig.

Interference in strikes01-06-2012

In June 2012, the Damp Hospital group dismissed 1,000 workers to undermine strike action in relation to a labour dispute. Management justified the dismissal by saying the workers “failed to comply with their contractual obligations”. A minimum service agreement is in force and 48 hours’ notice must be given in advance of a strike.

Collective bargaining31-12-2011

Germany has a long tradition of collective bargaining. However, over time opening clauses have been established in many sectors between the collective bargaining parties, making it possible for companies to deviate from collective agreements under certain circumstances, for instance to secure jobs.

Where wage concessions have been made, they have mainly been offered in exchange for job security. One problem is wage and social dumping through collective agreements concluded by yellow unions or unions with a limited membership and hence limited ability to assert themselves. Labour courts are increasingly casting doubts on this practice.

One such pseudo union, the Collective Bargaining Association of Christian Trade Unions (CGZP) has for many years set low-wage standards in the temporary employment sector. After the Federal Labour Court of Germany denied the CGZP the right to conclude collective agreements and thus rejected its trade union status, Berlin’s regional labour court confirmed that all collective agreements concluded by that union were invalid.

In a similar case, the regional labour court in Hamm ruled that the Trade Union Wood and Plastic (GKH), an affiliate of the Association of Christian Trade Unions, does not have the right to conclude collective agreements. For years this pseudo union concluded collective agreements throughout Germany agreeing low wages, long working hours and poor working conditions with employers’ organisations in the carpentry, joinery and model-making sectors.

No statutory right to strike for civil servants31-12-2011

Even though the Düsseldorf Administrative Court ruled that teachers who gain tenure as civil servants should not be punished if they go on strike, the legislator has taken no recognisable initiative to at last enshrine civil servants’ right to strike in the law.

Anti-union employers31-12-2010

Systematic discrimination by the state is unheard of in Germany. But despite a long tradition of unions, collective bargaining and co-determination, numerous companies show a lot of hostility towards unions. In such cases, external union representatives can be denied access to companies and employers can engage in anti-union propaganda. Moreover, employers are regularly discriminating against unions, resulting in dismissals, degradations, transfers and discrimination in the employment of active union members, especially those involved in establishing works councils.

In some cases, the 2010 works council elections were blocked by employers, e.g. at the concrete factory of Westerwelle in Herford. Ultimately, this backfired on the company Westerwelle. With voter turnout of 95%, the employees of Westerwelle clearly showed how important their voting rights for the works council were to them. Legally, such a blockade is not merely a petty offence but rather a criminal act, and one that is punishable with up to one year’s imprisonment.

First important victory in the battle for civil servants’ right to strike31-12-2010

Some significant headway has been made in the fight against the strict ban on strikes by civil servants. In an individual case, the Düsseldorf Administrative Court decided that teachers who gain tenure as civil servants should not be punished if they go on strike. With that, it set aside the disciplinary punishment in late 2010 of a teacher who had participated in a demonstration.

Discrimination against trade union members30-11-2008

There is no systematic discrimination by the state in Germany; however, there have been repeated cases of anti-union discrimination by employers. This can include dismissals, demotions, transfers and discrimination in recruitment of trade union activists, particularly when they want to establish works councils. The “Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache” (German Language Association) selected the term “infected by works councils” (“betriebsratsverseucht”) as “worst term of the year” in 2009. The term represents an attitude “which has unfortunately become widespread”, as the spokesperson explained to the jury. The jury had heard the term on a TV programme, during which an employee of the building chain Bauhaus reported that the term was used by department managers when colleagues from a subsidiary with a works council wanted to move to one without any workers’ representation.

Anti-union employers30-11-2008

Regardless of a rich tradition of trade unionism, collective bargaining and workplace representation, there are plenty of companies that are quite hostile to trade unions. In these cases, external trade union representatives, for instance, are not granted access to the workplace and employers engage in anti-union propaganda.

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