Daycare centers are closed, airports are closed, and rubbish is not being picked up. Workers across all industries are taking to the streets or staying at home – because they are on strike. For more wages, for more net from the gross, for better working conditions. A general strike by public sector workers is imminent on March 27, threatening to paralyze large parts of the country.
Steffen Kampeter, General Manager of the Confederation of German Employers' Associations (BDA), recently demanded: "We need more keen on work." Federal Labor Minister Hubertus Heil replied on Monday evening in the ARD talk "Hard but fair": "Most people work every day and are incredibly hardworking. We are a hardworking country” There is no need for debates about work ethic.
In addition to Heil, presenter Louis Klamroth's group included journalist Sara Weber, educator Karen Malsy, entrepreneur Frank Thelen and master painter Jessica Hansen, who introduced the four-day week in her company.
"No one benefits from working themselves mentally or physically broken," said Weber. A fair wage is a first step: "The people who work daily for the company's profits should also get something linked to it," she demanded. "After all, it is the people with their day-to-day work that ensure that the company can make these profits."
Frank Thelen replied: "First of all, the management has to decide how much has to be invested in the future." This is important so that the company can assert itself and not drift into bankruptcy. Minister of Labor Heil tried to combine both positions: companies must be profitable and able to invest, but at the same time there would be no company without the employees. Remuneration should be “fairly negotiated”.
Because many employees and the unions do not see this fairness, there is a risk of strikes. A general strike in the public sector in the transport sector is planned for March 27th. Trains don't run, planes stay on the ground because the airport fire brigade is on strike, and motorway tunnels could also be closed because employees of the federal motorway company stop working.
For BDA boss Kampeter, moderation and balance have been lost: “It used to be common to resort to strike measures at the end of a collective bargaining dispute. Now it's good manners to go on strike at the beginning of a collective bargaining dispute. The rules of the game aren't there.” But it's not about restricting the right to strike, he said. "I think it's just a matter of proportionality. A warning strike should give a warning, it shouldn't paralyze an entire country."
Such strikes led to "all employees in the Federal Republic being held hostage". And especially the socially disadvantaged are affected because they would mainly use local public transport, said Kampeter. "There should be no more such strikes in the future," demanded the former CDU federal deputy.
Minister of Labor Heil played down: “We have an average of 18 strike days a year. My French work colleague would like that. There is a different type of dispute there.” In Germany, employee representatives “usually use this instrument fairly responsibly”. Heil rejects legal interference with the right to strike.
Educator Karen Malsy made it clear: "Warning strikes have to be effective, otherwise it doesn't matter." She takes to the streets for higher wages, basically wants to do her job and help the children, as she said. “But that can no longer be provided because there is a lack of staff, the baby boomers are retiring and only a few follow. The prospects for the future are not encouraging.” Public sector employees are demanding 10.5 percent more wages. Rent, groceries: "You can tell that there is not much left," said Malsy. For her work she gets just over 3000 euros gross per month.
Heil agreed: The subject of "work-life balance" is the exciting question for the future, said the Minister of Labor. BDA general manager Kampeter reacted indignantly: "What a poor society, where work is not part of life." He couldn't do much with the debate. "A society that says there is a contradiction between life and work over the long term is unsustainable," he said. "This country is built on work, on hard work."
Heil countered: "You don't have to tell most of the employees who do their duty every day that this company is based on effort and performance." Heil said it was too often generalised: "I know people who dream of fairy dust but also very hard-working trainees who really want to work.” Young people have to be motivated. "But work is more than earning a living, it is participation in social life."
Almost a year ago, master painter Jessica Hansen introduced the four-day week in her company with 20 employees. Because she couldn't find any new employees, she switched her operations in Schleswig-Holstein to a four-day week and aggressively advertised with it. "I had 50 applications very quickly," she said. Since then, the working atmosphere has changed positively, and there is hardly any absenteeism among employees. "It was the best thing I could do for my company," said Hansen.
Entrepreneur Frank Thelen was open to the model, but insisted on flexibility. "But what is not possible is that we say that everyone can now do the four-day week," he said.