Social partners exchange practices with German partners on dialogue - a study visit to Berlin by the SSP project

Social partners exchange practices with German partners on dialogue - a study visit to Berlin by the SSP project

Under the scope of the Support to Social Partners Project - funded by the EU and implemented by the Kosovar Stability Initiative, in partnership with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the Independent Trade Union of Energy of Kosovo, Independent Trade Union of Metalworkers of Kosovo, the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, Fundacio' Pau i Solidaritat, and the Kosovar Gender Studies Center – a study visit to Berlin, Germany was organized during 7 to 11 October 2014, with focus on strengthening trade unions for the improvement of social dialogue. Representatives of trade unions, employers’ organizations and the Government of Kosovo met with key actors of the social partnership in Germany. They exchanged experiences on the organization of trade unions, the impact and role of the Chamber of Commerce in social dialogue and in staff development, and the role of the state in this dialogue between employers and employees.

The employees’ organizations were represented by members of the Independent Trade Union of Kosovo Metalworkers of Kosova, the Independent Trade Union of Energy of Kosovo, the Union of Sharrcem workers, and the Trade Union of the Private Sector. The employers’ organization were represented by members of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce and the Kosovo Business Alliance. While, on behalf of the third social partner, the government, representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare participated in the visit.

The group initially met with Mr. Christian Nestler, an official of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce, who explained that in the German two-party dialogue setup, the Chamber has no role in the dialogue. Mr. Nestler, an economist, stated that it’s the business associations that represent employers in the dialogue with the unions. Contrary to the system in Kosovo, in Germany it is prohibited by law for Chambers of Commerce to participate or to dialogue with the unions. The main duty of the Chambers of Commerce is staff training and preparation for the labor market. Additionally, they help businesses access new markets, given that German economy is largely reliant on exports.  

Following, participants in the visit met with Mr. Frank Zach, a member of the executive board of the Confederation of Trade Unions in Germany (DGB). He spoke about the organization of German trade union, noting that in addition to unions, another very powerful body is that of Workers’ Councils. In his opinion, this two-tiered organization, although very successful in Germany, would be unsustainable in the case of Kosovo. Mr. Zach said that in cases where there are unions and Workers' Councils, it is more likely that the employer will manipulate the Workers’ Council in her business to rival unions.

Mr. Zach also mentioned that the leader of the Union of Unions in Germany is obligated to hand over his leadership when he reaches the retirement age. He can be a unionist for life, but cannot be a leader.

He explained that a union leader is regarded as an employee of the union, so he must respect the rules that apply to all employees in a state. "A Union leader is considered an employee at the Union of Unions, therefore he/she must respect the rules of employment and retire. However, he has the right to be a trade unionist", said Zach.

Unions’ representatives also met with Mr. Peter Scherer from the ETUC (European Trade Union Confederation), who spoke about the organization and establishment of trade unions and their union. The President of the Independent Trade Union of Energy of Kosovo asked for Mr. Scherer’s insights in the process of reorganization and merger of unions by announcing that Kosovo is working to establish an industry trade union, in which unions currently operating in the industrial sector will merge.

"We started the process of merging two or more unions in a joint one. Sharing of ‘lessons learned’ and best practices from previous experiences are more than welcome. We hope that you’ll help us in preparing the statute and supporting documents for a new union grouping,  since you are considered as one of the international experts, and you are also familiar with the case of Kosovo" he said. "The union of two or three branches in an industrial union would be a good example for other unions in Kosovo as well."

Mr. Scherer said that unions that have the largest number of members are more powerful in negotiating with the employers. "The bigger the organization and the more members you have, the stronger you are. No matter how the organization is organized or denominated, the key is a large number of members. All the principles and purposes of the merger process should be much more concentrated on the representation of employees and making decisions respecting the workers’ will”, said Scherer.

He spoke about the importance of organizing Workers' Councils in large companies, in order to facilitate the communication with employers. He thinks that: "Employers should be interested in have a Workers’ Council spokesperson with whom the employer can interact instead of communicating with each individual employee, which would save him time and energy”.

Scherer shared the German experience in the organization of trade unions and mode of reunification after 1990, as well as the process of reunification after 2000.

The delegation also met with the member of the German Parliament, Mr. Josip Juratovic with whom they talked about the integration of the South-Eastern European Balkan states. Mr. Juratovic spoke about the importance of accountability and transparency that the leaders of countries should have since their main goal is EU accession. However, he added, it is a tradition in the Balkans that nationalization is used by leaders to win elections.

Part of the study visit program was also a visit to the Ministry of Labour in Berlin. There, participants were familiarised with the early days of establishment of social dialogue and trade unions in Germany. They also discussed the challenges for the future of Germany, such as the challenges in pension coverage due to low birth rate in this country. The tour guide mentioned that the German government is trying to boost the birth rate through different social policies, in order to avoid problems in the next 50 years, as the population is expected to decline from 80 million to 61 million in 2060.

The visit gave positive results and the Project will continue to organize similar activities, focusing on the exchange of experiences, including another study visit to the Netherlands with a delegation composed of members of the Social Economic Council and the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.