When I first started in my role as full-time employee representative on the works council, my predecessor gave me the following piece of advice: “One thing I’ll say to you is this: If you ever become Chairman of the Works Council, don’t go to the Board of Management and point out paragraphs and what’s in them. They know them better than you do. But do talk on behalf of your people and make sure that you get something out of the talks for them.” I always followed this advice and it meant we all got on very well during negotiations. Two examples stick in my mind in particular:
‘Analytical job evaluation’, a procedure used primarily to describe the roles of industrial employees in exact terms, was a hot topic in Germany in the 1970s and 80s. There was a points system in place – the higher the number of points, the higher the pay group on the scale. From time to time there would be borderline cases in which one or two points more would mean a higher pay group. We fought for every point. Sometimes we had to admit defeat, but other times our strong relationship with the employer’s representative worked in our favour, allowing us to achieve a better result.
Another case I remember well: One particular works agreement stated that industrial employees had to cash in their piecework scheme coupons within 12 months. One of our colleagues in Tool Production had clearly not received that information, however, and by the time he left the company, he had coupons worth 17,000 Deutschmarks in his drawer. He planned to use them to go on a nice holiday with his wife. The employer of course held the view that the coupons had expired. This meant the Chairman of the Works Council at the time being sent by his colleagues from Tool Production into the ‘dragons’ den, tasked with getting as much as possible for the employee who was leaving. In the end, a payout of 12,000 Deutschmarks was agreed upon.
The fight for a 35-hour week
The introduction of a 35-hour week was the subject of industrial disputes in Germany from the end of the 1970s. In the metal industry, the strike began on 14. May 1984, involving 14 selected automotive suppliers in the northern Württemberg/Baden area. Immediately, after the walkouts began, industrialists announced that lockouts would be taking place. This included MANN+HUMMEL, who locked out their industrial employees for a total of seven weeks in this period. Emergency filter production and tool production services were set up – the employees had to man the machines and the secretaries helped out in the kitchen.
Us full-time works council members kept the strike premises occupied and recorded the names of those locked out and those on strike every day. Members of the IG Metall union received 12 Deutschmarks of strike pay per day, which was paid in cash every two weeks. One lunchtime, a colleague and I drove to the ‘Bank für Gemeinwirtschaft’ credit institution in Stuttgart to withdraw one million Deutschmarks, neatly packed into two aluminium cases, from the union account to ensure that there was enough money in the strike fund. Overnight, this strike fund was kept in the canteen safe.
Despite the hard fight presented by the industrial dispute, both sides tried to be fair. Dr. Bracher (Chairman of the Board of Management) from MANN+HUMMEL often visited us at the strike premises to hear what we had to say, for example. In his role as Chairman of the IHK (the Chamber of Industry and Commerce), he took part in negotiations between the trade union and employee associations and was keen to achieve a good result for all. I always thought of him highly for this.
Contending with compromise
I was elected as Chairman of the Works Council in 1990. A period of economising followed this: The Labour Director at the time came to me in 1997 with instructions from the shareholders, who wanted to halve the maximum rate offered by the company pension scheme for all employees. It left me in shock, but we negotiated hard and managed to keep the full pension for all employees already on the company books in 1997. The reduced rate would only apply to new employees joining the company from 1998 onwards. I consider that one of our major successes, although I would say at this point that there is no such thing as ‘success’ – just compromise.