Siemens announces massive job cuts in Germany and worldwide. At the same time, the company is about to realise one of the biggest IPOs in German history. IG Metall trade Union threatens with strikes.
Siemens, Europe’s largest industrial conglomerate, announced its plan to lay off about 6900 employees in the coming years, which represents close to 2% of its global workforce. Half of the job cuts are located in Germany. IG Metall, the workers' main representative, replied it could make use of strikes and actions. Job cuts concern mainly Siemens’ gas turbine and energy division, which has declined due to the rapid growth of renewable energy (reuters.com).
Since October rumours have spread that Siemens would reorganise parts of its activities. In mid-November the planned job cuts became official. Negotiations with trade unions failed and several sites organised protests, such as in Offenbach near Frankfurt where 700 workers would be laid off. While it is yet unclear to what extent the different sites would be affected, some might be completely closed, such as Leipzig and Görlitz (about 950 workers).
The anger of workers and trade unions is fueled by Siemens profit rates and its upcoming IPO, one of the biggest in the history of the Deutsche Börse. Siemens plans to list its profitable bn€ 40 medical solutions division in Frankfurt next year (2018), starting with 25%, an estimated bn€ 10 (sueddeutsche.de).
The protests against job cuts are led by reformist trade union IG Metall. IG Metall is the dominant metalworkers’ union in Germany, the country's biggest union, and Europe's largest industrial union. In the history of German Trade Unionism after WWII, IG Metall has played a major role in achieving progressive labour laws, such as 5-day week, paid sick leave, or the 35-hour week in the metal industry.
German trade unions are rather reluctant to strike in consensus oriented German labour relations with a low level of confrontation. Trade unions have established their influence through bargaining in negotiation boards. For example, since 2010, dismissals based on operational grounds require an agreement by IG Metall and the worker’s council (boerse-online.de). Hence, the planned job cuts are seen as a rupture with this agreement. Due to its strong commitment to negotiation structures and its close ties with party membership*, radical actions cannot be expected, at least not initated by IG Metall. As a matter of fact, strikes are unlikely to happen before Christmas, a spokesman of IG Metall told the WirtschaftsWoche, as the sector is respecting a “peace agreement” until the end of the year.
* In 2015, the chair of the trade union umbrella organisation DGB and the chairs of seven out of eight affiliated unions of the DGB held a SPD membership card (Developments in German Industrial Relations
edited by Wenzel Matiaske).