Things start early on the job site, usually at seven in the morning. And a lot of workers have been on the road for a while now: they travel an average of 64 kilometers from home to site, according to a study commissioned by IG Bau. Now the union demands better compensation from employers for time spent on the road – if necessary through union action: “A national construction strike is more likely than it has been for 20 years,” said IG Bau boss Robert Feiger from SZ.
Arbitration begins Wednesday in the dispute over collective bargaining of nearly 900,000 employees in the main construction trade. IG Bau on the one hand and the two employers’ associations, the Central Association of the German Construction Industry (ZDB) and the Main Association of the German Construction Industry (HDB), on the other hand, are negotiating since May – to no avail. Now, like last year, the President of the Federal Social Court, Rainer Schlegel, must find a solution as an arbitrator. If this fails, there could be nationwide collective action on the construction for the first time since 2002. “And we know how to strike,” Feiger warned before arbitration began.
The demand for compensation for travel times has been on the table since 2018 – and it is still the “biggest problem in the negotiations”, the unionist said. In addition, IG Bau is calling for a 5.3 percent wage increase and the alignment of tariffs in the East and West. “Without the employers really giving in, there won’t be a deal with us this time around.”
Construction contractors are approaching arbitration in an equally confrontational manner: the union is broadcasting “false news,” negotiator Uwe Nostitz, who is also ZDB vice-president, said on Tuesday. It is wrong that the journey times to the construction site have been ignored so far. With the so-called construction allowance, employees already received an average of around 1,000 euros per year for travel time. The new regulations required also fell within the scope of the framework collective agreements – and therefore could not form part of the ongoing wage negotiations.
Last year, the two parties also agreed to a new collective agreement only during arbitration. At that time, there were salary increases of a good 2%, a corona bonus of 500 euros and a flat rate of 0.5% of the monthly salary in compensation for travel times. This is exactly where IG Bau is now asking for significant improvements: in the future, some time should be paid based on distance, in addition to working with the standard hourly wage. Employers reject this, if only because it is too complicated to properly record constantly changing routes. “Businesses also need to be able to organize this,” said a spokesperson.
Demand is high, so are material prices – and skilled workers are scarce
Meanwhile, a lot is still under construction: for example, incoming orders between January and July rose 4.8% from the previous year, the Federal Statistical Office recently reported. A long-term positive trend has thus continued: annual industry sales have increased every year since 2013, most recently in 2020 by 4.9%. However, the cost of building materials has also increased rapidly: the price of timber, for example, has risen by over 80% in some cases, and steel in some areas by over 40% – in the space of time. ‘just one year. This is the largest overall increase in the prices of building materials since 2008.
Because there will likely still be a lot of construction going on, the demand for workers is great. The Jobs Research Institute expects a total of nearly 100,000 jobs to be created this year and next. At the same time, construction has a problem with young talent: according to data from the Federal Institute for Vocational Training, companies have not been able to fill 30 percent of training positions for workers in the construction industry. concrete, floor setters and scaffolding workers last year. The number of trainees again increased slightly, Feiger says, “but it is by no means sufficient to meet demand” – also because about half of the skilled workers left the industry within five years. the end of their training and moved on to other professions. In addition, many retire earlier due to the intense physical work they do.
Feiger does not want to accept that a high collective agreement could further increase costs for builders: “Wages play a relatively minor role in the total cost of construction,” he said. “I also don’t accept that the construction worker who strains his bones every day should cut costs by cutting wages.”