IndustriAll Europe affiliate IG Metall is going into the next round of bargaining for the German steel industry with the "biggest package of demands in decades", according to Knut Giesler, chief negotiator and district leader of IG Metall North Rhine-Westphalia.

Based on the recommendations of the steel bargaining commission, the demands for the iron and steel industry are: 8.5% more money over 12 months and a reduction in working hours from 35 to 32 hours per week with full pay compensation. The working time reduction would be a first step towards the 4-day week, according to IG Metall. In addition, the collective agreements on part-time work for older workers, the use of employment contracts and job security for the more than 80,000 workers are to be extended.

The demands are the result of discussions among IG Metall members in the factories and at meetings, as well as a survey of more than 11,000 workers.
According to the survey, 72% of workers said that a pay rise was particularly important in the light of continuing high inflation.

A reduction in working time was also high on the list of workers’ priorities. 75% of respondents said that the issue of reduced working hours with full pay compensation was "rather important" or "important". 69% of respondents saw it as an important tool for securing jobs and employment. What seems paradoxical in times of a tight labour market may pay off in the long run: the green transformation of the steel industry and introduction of new technologies are expected to put pressure on employment in a few years’ time. Reducing working time would spread the existing work over more shoulders and secure employment.

Other benefits include a better work-life balance, which can make jobs in the industry more attractive to skilled workers and young people in particular; health benefits, as long working hours are associated with higher stress levels; and a happier, more motivated workforce.

In the steel sector, IG Metall is particularly powerful because of its 80% unionisation rate. This allows it to make pioneering demands that can serve as a blueprint for other sectors. Its demand for shorter working hours with full pay compensation and a substantial pay rise help to offset the rise in inflation.

Isabelle Barthès, industriAll Europe Deputy General Secretary said:

“Many eyes in Europe will be on IG Metall’s negotiations when they face their employer counterparts from mid-November. Their ambitious but legitimate demands have the capacity to set trends. The demand for a pay rise combined with a reduction in working hours is a clear signal that German steelworkers seek increased purchasing power, a better work-life balance and secure employment in a context of rapid change.

“We understand that with such ambitious demands this round of negotiations may be tough and we pledge European solidarity to our colleagues. As we have shown in our recent campaign for higher wages, European workers can win when they stand side by side.”