Strike looms as 6,900 face sack at Germany’s Siemens

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WORKERS at Siemens AG, the largest industrial manufacturing company in Europe, are demanding strike action against a programme of mass sackings.

Thousands of Siemens employees demonstrated in defence of their jobs in various German cities last Friday, following the company’s announcement of a plan to cut 6,900 jobs. While the Merkel government is collapsing, the German manufacturing giant, headquartered in Berlin and Munich, has announced thousands of job cuts in Germany and around the world.

‘Should management stick to its plans we will continue with the means available to us as a trade union,’ warned Juergen Kerner, of IG Metall, Germany’s largest union. Siemens, which employs approximately 372,000 workers worldwide and reported global revenue of around 83 billion euros in 2017, announced last Thursday that it intends to cut 6,900 jobs, or two per cent of its global workforce, with roughly half of the sackings in Germany, mainly at its power and gas division.

IG Metall called protests in Berlin and the city of Offenbach near Frankfurt last Friday. Iris Gleicke, the German government’s commissioner for eastern German affairs, warned that the job cuts would be devastating for sites in structurally weak parts of eastern Germany, but claimed: ‘I expect that Siemens and the workers’ representatives would agree on a fair balance of interests.’

However, Horst Schneider, the mayor of the city of Offenbach, where Siemens plans to cut 700 jobs, said the city ‘has a further right to exist in this global company,’ adding: ‘It cannot be that the big ones always eat the small ones.’

One of the sack-threatened workers, Tanja Scorrano, who has worked for Siemens in Offenbach for 27 years, said: ‘We will fight for our jobs.’ Following closed-door talks with workers last Thursday, Siemens announced that it plans to shut down facilities in the cities of Görlitz and Leipzig, while a third production site in the town of Erfurt is to be sold off.

‘The power generation industry is experiencing disruption of unprecedented scope and speed,’ managing board member Lisa Davis said in a statement, claiming that renewable energy is putting other forms of power generation ‘under increasing pressure’.

Siemens said global demand for large gas turbines (generating more than 100 megawatts) has fallen drastically and is expected to level out at around 110 turbines a year. By contrast, the technical manufacturing capacity of all producers worldwide is estimated at around 400 turbines. Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser warned of ‘painful cuts’ to ‘tackle structural issues in some individual businesses.’

However, this onslaught on the jobs of tens of thousands of employees comes after the conglomerate reported an 11 per cent growth in net profit for 2016, to 6.2 billion euros ($7.3 billion). Workers’ representatives were furious after the announcement and vowed to fight to defend their members’ jobs.

IG Metall accused Siemens of being ‘irresponsible’ for threatening the jobs of employees while turning in healthy profits. They also condemned Siemens for failing to consult closely with the unions, as has been the norm at big German conglomerates for decades.

‘Siemens must gradually ask itself, do we want to remain an integrated technology group, or is it only about pleasing shareholders?’ declared Jürgen Wechsler, head IG Metall in Bavaria. Jürgen Kerner, IG Metall board member, went further, describing the planned job cuts as a ‘widely mounted attack on the employees,’ and adding that job cuts of this size are ‘completely unacceptable given the excellent total situation of the company.’

The sack threats come after Siemens – whose products range from trains to wind turbines to medical equipment – has already announced 6,000 job cuts in its wind power unit. The company blamed falling prices in major markets like India and the US for the sackings at the division, which merged with Spain’s Gamesa earlier this year.

In 2013, the group also laid off approximately 15,000 workers, partly as a consequence of Germany’s decision to abandon nuclear energy in favour of renewables. Under CEO Kaeser, whole divisions have been abandoned or sold off, including household appliances, telecoms networks and nuclear and solar energy.

Three of the sites that are on the Siemens hit-list are in Germany’s eastern federal states.

Outgoing German economy minister Brigitte Zypries warned Siemens against closing plants in the poorer eastern half of the country. In a letter to Siemens CEO Kaeser warned that the mass sackings move ‘could stoke up discontent’.

• After five rounds of negotiations, the IG Bauen-Agrar-Umwelt (IG BAU) union has reached an agreement with Germany’s employers’ federation aiming for equal pay across the whole country within two years.

The IG BAU has a membership of 350,000, and is the fourth largest union in the DGB (German Confederation of Trade Unions). For the more than 100,000 workers in the cleaning industry in Eastern Germany, ‘the roadmap is equal pay’, said the union.

IG BAU board member and negotiator Ulrike Laux said: ‘The long term was not easy for us to accept, but the gap between East and West wages of up to 13 per cent could not be bridged. Aligning was a top priority, so that compromise was acceptable to us,’ he said.

The head of Uni Global Union, Eddy Stam, said: ‘The wage wall will finally fall in 2020 after almost 30 years of reunification. During that period, wages were raised for around 600,000 employees in the industry. Now, 28 years after the reunification and many futile attempts, we have finally achieved equal pay in East and West. This is a giant step, which has cost a lot of strength.’

The collective agreement provides for an adjustment in four steps and will last until December 31, 2020.

• The German Council of Economic Experts has launched an attack on the country’s Working Hours Law, describing it as out of step with the times and demanding that the concept of a normal work day should be fundamentally ‘loosened’.

German employers are prohibited from making workers work more than eight hours a day. Workers are also entitled to a 30-minute break after six hours of labour and at least eleven hours of rest time in between workdays.

The 8-hour workday means the average German worker puts in 40 hours per week. However, the five-member council in its annual report, issued last Wednesday, claimed that the Working Hours Law is too restrictive for employers and has called for working hours to be capped at 48 per week rather than at eight per day.

They also rejected trade union calls for working hours to be shortened rather than lengthened, calling them ‘inappropriate in view of the increasing shortage of skilled workers due to demographic change.’

In a 2016 study carried out by the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), 46 per cent of people asked said that ‘digitalisation’ has meant more work for them, compared with only nine per cent who said digitalisation had made their lives easier.

German unions have declared that they will not accept any revision of the Working Hours Law.

The rules laid out in the Working Hours Law may stipulate eight hours as the norm, but the reality on the ground in Germany doesn”t necessarily conform to that.

The Federal Office of Statistics says that last year Germans worked 772 million hours of paid and 947 million unpaid hours of overtime. One billion unpaid – that’s nothing other than wage theft perpetrated on employees by employers,’ DGB chairman Reiner Hoffmann said.

Anticipating the Council’s recommendation, the DGB rejected any loosening of the Working Hours Law back in June. The giant metalworkers union IG Metall, also says it is demanding the right for workers to scale back their hours to 28 per week.