Germany’s unionized port workers and the association representing port operators have agreed terms for a new contract after one of Germany’s longest labor disputes in decades. The tentative agreement comes just three days before the expiry of a cooling-off period imposed by the Hamburg labor court and removes the threat of further strikes that have disrupted operations at all North Sea ports since June. .
“It’s a very good result. Our most important objective was a real compensation for inflation so that employees are not alone with the consequences of runaway price increases. We have achieved this,” said the negotiator of ver.di Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth after the last round of collective bargaining which concluded on August 23. that he recommends that the members accept the agreement, which must be finalized on September 5.
The first of so-called “warning strikes” in decades was carried out by union members on June 9 in an effort to put increased pressure on Zentralverband der deutschen Seehafenbetriebe (Association of German Seaport Operators) a blocked covering 58 collective agreements. In the weeks that followed, the union Ver.di (United Services Union) tried to intensify the pressure still further by series of follow-up strikes.
The issue came to a head after seven rounds of negotiations failed when ZDS went to labor court. Citing the wider damage to the economy and supply chain disruptions, the court ordered both sides back to the negotiating table and imposed a moratorium on further strikes until August 26.
According to the union, it took 10 rounds of negotiations, but they finally reached mutually acceptable terms. Depending on their position, container operations workers will on average receive a 9.4% wage increase, including bonuses, retroactive to July 1. Workers in general cargo operations will receive a smaller 7.9% increase including bonuses. From June 1, 2023, they will all benefit from a further increase of 4.4% which could be extended to 5.5% depending on the rate of inflation next year. They have also agreed, if inflation is above these levels, to start new negotiations for the second year of the contract which expires on May 31, 2024.
ZDS issued a brief statement at the end of the negotiations indicating that it was pleased that the terms had been recommended for acceptance by the Federal Tariff Commission. They noted, however, that the conditions also placed an increased burden on seaport operators and would not only impact performance, but also the competitiveness of the industry.
The retail inflation rate compensation had been one of the main sticking points during the negotiations, just as it also emerged as a key point in the negotiations in the UK. Felixstowe workers in the UK went on strike this week over similar concerns, while Liverpool workers also authorized a strike focused on compensation matching the rate of inflation.