Solidarity in the crisis: How strong trade unions help

An assessment of DGB achievements for our colleagues in one year of the Corona crisis

During the Corona crisis, governments, parliaments and companies have made huge decisions of enormous importance in a short period of time and at high speed. The DGB, trade unions and works councils in the private and public sector must therefore be vigilant and act quickly to push through improvements and to prevent any deterioration of standards for their colleagues. Our joint record is rather impressive.

1. Solidarity is: preventing mass layoffs through short-time work allowance
Without short-time allowances, the unemployment figures would have exploded like in the USA. We have ensured that this crisis instrument that has been tried and tested before will be further improved: Until the end of 2021, there will be higher short-time work allowances up to 80 or 87 percent of the normal wage.
We have also taken action in the area of collective bargaining. Short-time allowances are being topped up in many collective agreements. Securing jobs is a top priority in many sectors that are suffering badly from the
effects of the pandemic.

2. Solidarity is: saving jobs and companies, securing employment
Preventing insolvencies and saving jobs has been the overriding goal alongside combating the pan-demic. Fiscal austerity through debt brakes and black zeros (German euphemism for a balanced budget with a slight surplus) won’t do it. We have successfully advocated comprehensive aid pro-grams to help companies, which have slipped into crisis as a result of the pandemic, quickly and unbureaucratically. The German government has learned from the mistakes of the past and has pumped money into the economy to prevent a wave of bankruptcies and layoffs.
In addition to companies and employees, especially the solo self-employed are the ones who are suffering from the crisis. To provide them with better protection, we have succeeded in making it significantly easier for them to access social assistance benefits (“Hartz IV” level without means testing). Until June 2021 solo self-employed workers with fluctuating incomes will not have to un-dergo means testing. This will save them, who already are having a hard enough time, from receiv-ing reimbursement claims from job centers.

3. Solidarity is: Make a big splash with investments instead of spill
We cannot save money after a crisis, we have to grow out of it. This has always been the DGB posi-tion, the German government and the EU Commission now seem to have understood it.

Child bonuses, investment in the future, liquidity assistance for companies - many of our demands have been included in the German government’s multi-billion economic stimulus package.

Following a joint Franco-German initiative, in May 2020 the European Commission - as demanded by the trade unions - launched a comprehensive reconstruction package. The European economic stimulus package aims to economic reconstruction through joint debt and to pass the money on to the member states in the form of grants and loans. This is a historic breakthrough and a start to a solidarity-based distribution of the debt load in Europe, which the DGB has long advocated and fought for.

Ideological blockades are also breaking down in Germany. We have succeeded in having the debt brake being suspended for 2020 to 2022. The Chancellor’s Office Minister’s initiative to revise the debt brake is a first step towards a factual, ideology-free debate about the future of this prime obstacle for investment.

4. Solidarity is: ending exploitation in the meat industry
Finally, there is an end to exploitation through temporary work and work contracts at Tönnies and Co. There is really nothing good to say about Covid 19, but at least the Corona crisis has made it pos-sible to put an end to the untenable conditions in the meat industry. In the fight against inhuman working conditions, this is a historic breakthrough for which the trade unions have fought for over the last 15 years.

5. Solidarity is: Cash instead of clapping
Nobody gets full from clapping. Care for the elderly and the sick is a responsible job, even beyond Covid-19. It is work that deserves respect, appreciation and, above all, decent pay. Colleagues in nursing care for the elderly and the sick have received a tax-free special premium of up to 1,500 euros - a first step toward appropriate payment for this important work. This ’Corona bonus’ is recognition of the tireless efforts of employees in the care sector, without whom we would be lost.

6. Solidarity is: taking care of young people
They are often forgotten in the Corona crisis: young people in professional training and study. We have taken care of them. We have secured a 500 million euro protective shield for apprentices. In addition, we succeeded in setting up training bonuses for companies that maintain or raise the level of training and bonuses for companies that take on apprentices or dual students from insolvent companies. In addition, training allowances will be subsidized in order to avoid short-time work for trainees.

Many students have lost their part-time jobs and do not receive government assistance such as the short-time allowance. They, too, are being supported: The public study grant BAföG has been opened up for them and will be paid for longer.
If they work in system-relevant sectors, their income will not be counted towards BAföG for the duration of the pandemic.

7. Solidarity is: providing more support for the unemployed in the crisis
The Corona crisis is hitting the unemployed hard, and finding a job is made much more difficult by the pandemic. We have demanded that there must be improvements in unemployment benefits and basic social assistance, and there have been. Until the end of 2020, unemployment benefits were paid for three more months. There is also relief in basic social assistance: No means testing for Hartz IV recipients for their applications until the end of 2021 and their actual housing costs will be covered.

8. Solidarity is: providing financial help for families in a lot of stress
Working from home, homeschooling and hoping that the job doesn’t fall victim to the pandemic: The crisis is taking its toll on families, as has become clear in recent months. The Corona everyday life has not only caused stress but also financial losses. That’s where we came in. Many working parents have to look after their children due to daycare or school closures, can only work to a lim-ited extent, and therefore have to accept a loss of pay. Since March 2020, they have been entitled to compensation.

Those who have to care for their child at home can receive extended child sick pay: per parent up to 20 days for each child in 2021, and 40 days for single parents.

9. Solidarity is: improving occupational health and safety in offices and companies, better support while working from home
Work must not make people ill, which is the guiding principle of all trade unions. The companies must provide their employees with comprehensive protection against the Corona infection in the office and at work - we have successfully campaigned for this.
Since August 2020, there have been new and binding rules for the protection against Corona infec-tion. Keeping distances, avoiding contact, adapting the working environment to the risk of infection - these are now clearly regulated. We have also achieved that the risk assessment for each work-place must be reviewed and, if necessary, adapted.

Covid-19 has forced us into working from home, accelerating a trend that was already beginning to emerge. The issue will continue to keep us busy after Covid-19, because working at home must not be an area free of labour law. During the crisis, it was important for us to help employees working at home in the short term with the additional costs they incurred, for example, for electricity and new furniture. The German government has implemented our practical proposal for a tax allow-ance: Up to 600 euros/year (5 euros x max. 120 days) are now recognized as tax deductible ex-penses.

10. Solidarity is: limiting working time and preventing permanent expansion of working hours
Crisis as an opportunity - the employers know this saying as well. Above all, existing working time regulations are still an annoyance to the employers, they would like to see them permanently re-laxed. We were able to block this. While it is true that the daily working time limit was temporarily lifted and minimum rest periods lowered, we managed to ensure that watering down working time limits were not extended. They will remain the same after Covid-19 as they were before Covid-19.

Unfortunately, the Corona crisis is not over yet. But the DGB and its affiliated trade unions continue to work to ensure that workers and their families get through the crisis in good shape.

Strong trade unions help - collective agreements protect – co-determination works!