Germany | TRADE UNIONS | MEATPACKING
With Johannes Specht
On the scope of the collective bargaining agreement reached in the meat sector
“A huge success”
The NGG leader spoke with La Rel about the important progress made in the last collective bargaining process, which was long and complicated but ultimately concluded with a great victory for the German labor movement in general and for meat industry workers in particular.
Amalia Antúnez y Jaqueline Leite
Johannes Specht | Photo: Rel UITA
-How did you achieve this agreement?
-During the three months it took us to complete the negotiation, we had to stage work stoppages and strikes to pressure management into negotiating better wages for the most underpaid workers, who were barely making the state minimum wage.
After that long and hard process, in late May we finally secured a raise that will be implemented in stages and that amounts to a total increase of 28 percent.
This is highly positive for us, because of all the branches of production represented by the NGG, meatpacking had the lowest wages and the poorest working conditions.
-How many workers are covered by the agreement and what are its impacts?
The meatpacking industry in Germany employs 160,000 people, at least a fourth of whom were earning a minimum wage. But as a direct result of the collective bargaining agreement we secured, some 40,000 workers will now earn more.
But the agreement also has the indirect effect of furthering the negotiation of new collective bargaining agreements throughout this sector, a sector in which, until today, there were very few companies that had signed one. It was not at all unusual for companies to pay whatever they wanted to pay and however they wanted to pay it.
So this agreement we achieved is the second great success we have had, the first being the new law that sets a limit for temporary work in meat processing companies.
-What is this new law specifically about?
-In December 2020, the German parliament passed a strict new law aimed at improving controls in the meat sector. These controls will include steep fines to be imposed in the event of infractions.
The new law, which entered into force in January of this year, prohibits subcontracting and work through temporary employment agencies in slaughterhouses and meat processing plants.
-Does the law cover migrant workers?
-With this new legislation, some 35,000 workers from Central and Eastern Europe are now directly employed by the companies they work for.
This is a highly positive thing, because these workers, who prior to this law were only coming in for seasonal work and returning to their countries of origin after the season, and who were not unionized, can now bring their families to live in Germany, and they are willing to join a union.
Since we started this negotiation, one of NGG’s achievements has been the increase in the number of union members. We gained over 1,400 new members.
-During the negotiation process you received the solidarity of the Latin American labor movement, in particular the Brazilian labor movement. What is your assessment of that?
-It meant a great deal to us as leaders, but especially to the rank-and-file workers who received the messages from the IUF and the Latin American Regional Office with great joy and were very moved by them. Rel UITA (IUF Latin America) was very active in this sense.
It was like the confirmation that we were not alone in our struggle. It confirmed that working conditions in the meat sector are pretty similar in other latitudes and the expressions of solidarity we received show that the working class is more connected than ever.