Last 17th of March, the confederation DGB in Germany met with the employers’ association and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs to discuss ways to address the COVID-19 crisis. Given the serious threat to public health, workers’ livelihood and the economy, the government, unions and employers all agreed to share the responsibility in fighting the pandemic. The unions and employers asked the federal government to prepare a comprehensive plan to avert a possible economic recession.
Despite the meeting, the unions said that employers are not overly responsive to their economic and social demands.
In particular, the IG Metall demands that employees receive wage subsidies in addition to short-time work benefits. The law in Germany gives short-time workers a salary guarantee at 60% of the net income and 67% for employees with children. The unions demand this percentage to be increased to 90% by the employers.
The unions insist that the workers will most likely be affected by the COVID-triggered recession. As such, unions demand that the governmental-owned KfW development bank ensure that companies have enough liquidity and that consumer checks are be issued to employees.
The unions also feared that workers using public transport might get infected by the virus. They called for a “work from home” set-up to be made available to workers whenever possible. The unions stressed that employers should only be able to reject such applications if they have very good reasons to do so.
The unions also reminded employers not to curtail workers' rights during the pandemic. They warned workers about signing termination and amended employment contracts given to them by employers. The BWI affiliates said that while the situation is challenging, it is not a reason to “voluntarily” end an employment relationship. They argued that under no circumstances should workers sign such contracts during times of distress and crisis. Instead, the unions strongly recommend that workers first obtain comprehensive information from them and/or lawyers of the DGB Rechtsschutz GmbH (Legal protection).
In addition, the unions maintained that employers are not allowed to force leave, force transfer or short-time work as a response to COVID-19 without the involvement of the workers’ councils. Unions demand that workers should be an integral part of any crisis management, which they said should be done in a democratic way.