Public service: Housing benefit reform exacerbates collective bargaining dispute

BEmployees of municipal institutions and authorities find themselves increasingly overburdened with their work because a flood of demanding new federal laws is giving them more and more additional tasks. At the beginning of the big collective bargaining round in the public sector, it’s not just them unions attentive – the municipal employers also agree with them, at least in the description of the problem.

In fact, there is now a “long list of reforms at the expense of municipal employees,” said President Karin Welge of the FAZ. She referred, among other things, to the reforms of housing benefit and citizens’ allowances, which have caused significant additional work for the authorities since January. Even before that, the employees in the public sector had “done something special in the fight against pandemics and crises, and for that we owe them all our thanks”.

Welge, who is also mayor of Gelsenkirchen, will be the employer negotiator in the collective bargaining for 2.5 million municipal and federal employees that begins this Tuesday. While the unions earnings and DBB Amtsbund justify their high expectations of the pay round with such additional burdens, the employers strictly reject this link.

Welge said that the burdens caused by legislation “cannot be compensated for in collective bargaining”. Here the legislature is in demand, especially federal politics. It is important to “jointly demand that the effects on municipalities should also be considered, taken into account and adequately calculated financially in the case of legislative projects”.

10.5 percent more salary demanded for the upper tariff groups

Verdi and officials association This time they are demanding 10.5 percent more salary for the upper tariff groups, for all others they are asking 500 euros more per month. Since this amount accounts for more than 10.5 percent up to a salary of 4762 euros, the demand adds up to 14 percent on average for all tariff groups. This is one of the highest demands of the most recent collective bargaining rounds. In the current conflict with Deutsche Post, however, Verdi went a little further with 15 percent.

The consequences of the housing benefit reform decided by the traffic light coalition in autumn had previously been sharply criticized by DBB chairman Ulrich Silberbach: The authorities simply lacked the staff for the tripling of the number of applicants that had been decided upon – and existing employees “despair if they therefore ten stunned low earners that it can take months from the application for housing benefit to the decision,” reported Silberbach at the annual conference of his organization in Cologne. This is just one example of many. “The hut is burning at every corner.”

The German District Association also commented very critically on the hastily decided housing benefit reform: “Locally, those responsible for the local authorities have to get the coals out of the fire once more,” complained its President Reinhard Sager. Verdi and DBB conclude from this that “performance-related payment” for employees is now all the more urgent; moreover, the public service can only attract sufficient additional staff with noticeably higher salaries.

Employers also want to campaign for “solutions to the shortage of skilled workers” in the collective bargaining round – especially since there is a lack of staff in IT, engineering and some social professions, as Welge emphasizes. In addition to the challenges posed by laws that require a great deal of personnel, this is made more difficult by the tense budgetary situation: if the collective agreement were too expensive, the municipalities would “lack the money elsewhere, such as for necessary investments in the mobility transition or in digitization,” warns the social democrat, who has been since 2021 the Association of Municipal Employers’ Associations.

All the more, in the competition for scarce staff, the public service must also score with other advantages, such as job security, a good work-life balance or additional incentives such as daycare subsidies. It is “a misconception” that the shortage of skilled workers could be solved by higher wages alone.

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