I joined MANN+HUMMEL as a process mechanic in 1990 – the same year in which the predecessor to my predecessor – Manfred Bär – was elected as Chairman of the Works Council. When I started at the company, I never in a million years thought I would one day follow in his footsteps. My commitment to employee representation at MANN+HUMMEL began in the mid-2000s. This is how it happened.
The ERA, the new framework for reforming collective wage agreements, was first introduced in Germany in 2003. At that time, it affected around 1.8 million metal and electrical industry employees at 4000 companies tied to collective labour agreements. The objective of the ERA was, and is still, to create a uniform pay system for workers and employees based on uniform and comparable job evaluation. This ultimately boiled down to achieving a greater level of fairness when it comes to payment. It is doubtful that this was achieved in every case, however.
The introduction of the ERA, which took place in 2005 at MANN+HUMMEL, did in any case stir me to dedicate myself to employee representation, although only as first ‘successor’ to start with, as I fell one vote short during the 2006 works council election. I was then promoted to full member status in 2008. I went full-time on the works council in 2011, which meant I was released from my day-to-day role as a test mechanic and moved permanently to the works council office. During the works council election in 2014, I was elected as Deputy Chairman of the Works Council by the committee, before then taking the chair in April 2015.
Shift in power to the committee
If you compare the work done by the Chairman of the Works Council today with that done by the predecessor to my predecessor, Manfred Bär, in the 1970s and 80s, there are many similarities, but also many differences. The Chairman of the Works Council remains the first port-of-call for the Board of Management and represents the interests of the employees vis-à-vis the Board. However, whilst the Chairman had a certain king-like status within the Works Council in previous decades, the power has now shifted to the committee. I can no longer do my own thing as Chairman of the Works Council today.
Instead, legal aspects have gained more and more significance in our day-to-day work. I need to know exact details of the German Works Council Constitution Act and industrial agreements so that I can keep pace in negotiations and discussions with the Board of Management. This often means enlisting the services of a lawyer for advice.
We do of course continue to negotiate with the employer on employee agreements, pay categories, overtime and much else besides. What makes negotiations different now is the Board of Management’s argumentation and objectives. In days gone by, the employer would have argued that they needed more filters, whereas nowadays it is all about increasing margins. We certainly wouldn’t have a seven-week labour dispute surrounding a 35-hour working week – like the one experienced in Manfred Bär’s days, during the 1980s – nowadays. The power structure has changed too much for this to be done. Our tasks do still include monitoring compliance with laws and industrial agreements in the company as well concluding and revising company agreements.
In our anniversary year, 2016, we unfortunately have to deal with one of the most difficult and unpleasant tasks that any works council has to face, namely to conclude agreements relating to the reconciliation of interests and a redundancy programme. After all, from an employee point of view, there are only ever losers in this situation. The negotiations for this are now complete, with the 121 job cuts the employer has to make for operational reasons now being announced. Looking back at how it used to be, one thing has certainly not changed: Like my predecessors, we also take a constructive approach to negotiating with the employer on difficult topics in order to achieve an acceptable result for all of our colleagues.