IThere is still no sign of agreement in the dispute over the wages of dockworkers at the major German North Sea ports. This threatens Germany’s largest seaports to come to a standstill again – this time even for 48 hours. The Verdi union has asked workers to stop working Thursday morning through Saturday morning. The warning strikes affect all the important ports on the North Sea – in addition to Hamburg, which is by far the largest German seaport, also Bremerhaven, Bremen, Emden, Wilhelmshaven and Brake. The warning strike should begin at all locations with the beginning of the early shift, Verdi negotiator Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth told the German Press Agency on Wednesday.
Ship jams in the North Sea
Previously, the Central Association of German Seaport Companies (ZDS) and Verdi had not been able to reach a tariff compromise acceptable to both sides in a seventh round of negotiations lasting more than eight hours. Both sides are negotiating for around 12,000 employees in 58 collective bargaining companies in Hamburg, Lower Saxony and Bremen. The port workers had already paralyzed the handling of ships twice in June, most recently on June 23 for 24 hours.
The effects of the warning strike on the handling of container and cargo ships are likely to be significant and the loading and unloading of ships will largely come to a standstill. This will exacerbate the already tense situation with a ship jam on the North Sea and the processes at the quay edges are likely to get even further out of step. ZDS negotiator Ulrike Riedel called the call for a strike “irresponsible” in view of the disrupted supply chains to the detriment of consumers and companies.
Due to the corona virus, there has been a lot of confusion in the global traffic of container and cargo ships for a long time. According to the latest calculations by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), more than two percent of global freight capacity is stuck in traffic jams in the North Sea. Around 20 freighters are currently waiting to be dispatched at anchorages in the German Bight, most of them bound for Hamburg.
Verdi demands up to 14 percent more wages
Verdi has started with a package of demands that, according to its own statements, would mean pay increases of up to 14 percent over a period of 12 months, depending on the wage group. After several improvements, the ZDS recently put a “final offer” on the table, which the association puts at a volume of up to 12.5 percent for container companies and 9.6 percent for conventional companies, but with a term of 24 months. The Verdi package of demands, like the ZDS offer, includes several components consisting of an increase in hourly wages, allowances and one-off payments.
It is particularly controversial how things should continue with a two-year term in 2023. Verdi is aiming for special termination clauses in order to be able to renegotiate the increase offered for the coming year if necessary. According to the ZDS, it proposed a list of criteria on Wednesday, but both sides could not agree on this.
In detail, according to ZDS, hourly wages should increase retrospectively from June by 1.20 euros (in car handling by 90 cents). The allowance in container operations should increase by 1,500 euros or in conventional operations by 750 euros. In addition, employees in container companies should receive a one-time payment of 700 euros. From June 2023, hourly wages and allowances are to increase by a further 3.1 percent, according to ZDS.
Verdi negotiator Schwiegershausen-Güth criticized that the current offer was “still insufficient when considering all components”. It distributes the risk of price developments, especially in the second year, one-sidedly on the shoulders of the employees. “We need a collective agreement that ensures better incomes for the entire term of the collective agreement.”
ZDS negotiator Riedel complained that Verdi was insisting on maximum demands, while in comparable sectors wage agreements were currently being concluded with in some cases significantly lower conditions. She renewed the demand, which Verdi had previously rejected, “to finally agree to an arbitration so that we can come to a solution”.