Dhe longest labor dispute in the North Rhine-Westphalian health care system is over. On Tuesday, the Verdi collective bargaining committee accepted a key issue paper that had been negotiated with the employers the night before and that is to be implemented gradually from January 1, 2023, as announced by the union and employer. The strikes will end on Wednesday. The key issues paper envisages numerous improvements in working conditions.
Better personnel key and shift-specific load measurement
“It’s done: The first collective agreement for relief at hospitals in Germany has been enforced,” said Verdi regional department head Katharina Wesenick in Cologne. The collective agreement was “an important stage victory for the employees” and “was enforced against the profit logic of the hospital system”. For many groups of employees outside of care, minimum staffing levels and load compensation have been agreed nationwide for the first time. In particular, as far as the Düsseldorf university clinic is concerned, there are also “downsides” from the union perspective.
For the employers, the Medical Director of the University of Münster, Alex W. Friedrich, said they were convinced “that this agreement on a noticeable relief for employees marks a clear turning point that will not only change the future in nursing, but in general in the clinics in will have a significant impact on Germany”. Central points of the agreement are a better staff ratio, especially in patient-related professional groups, a shift-specific load measurement through days off or financial compensation and relief days when the new staff ratio is not reached.
Aggravated situation due to corona patients
The strike had lasted more than eleven weeks. With the industrial action, the Verdi union wanted to push through noticeable improvements, especially in the chronically understaffed care sector, but also in other areas of the clinic. Well over 10,000 operations have had to be postponed since the beginning of May due to a shortage of staff at the six clinics. A large number of corona sufferers exacerbated the situation.
The state government welcomed the agreement. Science Minister Ina Brandes (CDU) said that the agreement would bring “tangible relief for all patient-related professions at the six university clinics”. She is pleased that the state government was able to set the course for the agreement by amending the Higher Education Act.
Labor and Health Minister Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU) said that the past few weeks had demanded a lot from those involved – the employees, the patients and the clinic management. “I am therefore very happy that the social partners have found a solution to the wage dispute. There is now a good result on the table that will lead to better working conditions and provide lasting relief.”
Employers let the 100-day ultimatum pass
In some parts of Germany there has long been a so-called collective agreement on relief (TV-E), which regulates the exact staffing levels for individual hospital areas. In NRW, the labor dispute began with a 100-day ultimatum to employers earlier this year. The university hospital bosses let this deadline pass, which intensified the tone. According to their own statements, the situation had become unbearable for the employees in nursing and other areas of the clinic because the care and support of the patients was suffering more and more due to the shortage of staff.
For a long time, the NRW university hospitals refused to come to the negotiating table and submit offers. There were also legal hurdles for direct negotiations between the parties to the dispute. Because the collective bargaining community of German states (TdL) rejected negotiations, the NRW state parliament had to clear the way by amending the higher education law. At the end of June, this was achieved with the votes of the new black-green coalition and the SPD and AfD factions.
Now the university hospitals from the employers’ association of the countries (AdL), which are members of the TdL, have been able to withdraw and conduct independent collective bargaining. In addition, Laumann publicly promised the strikers that the state would be responsible for refinancing the costs at the clinics that were not covered by the health insurance companies. This was a crucial signal for all sides.