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Retail workers at strike rally in Schwerin: "The inflation of recent months is eating away at wages"

Photo: Jens Büttner / dpa

It's about the earnings of millions of employees: The trade union Ver.di and the employers in the retail trade have been arguing for months about more money – but the regional negotiations in the 16 federal states are not progressing. The German Retail Association (HDE) has now recommended that companies nationwide increase their wages even before an official collective bargaining agreement is reached. It was not foreseeable that the collective bargaining would be brought to a solution in a timely manner, the HDE said.

Instead, the association is proposing a "voluntary advance increase" in wages and salaries, by 5.3 percent. Nevertheless, negotiations are to continue, there is no obligation for companies to implement the proposal. On Monday, the Rewe Group was the first player in the retail sector to announce that it would pay out the additional money. In wholesale, Rewe employees are to receive 5.1 percent more than before, while other employees will receive the full 5.3 percent.

Interference in conflict

With this recommendation, the HDE, as a federal association, is entering into a conflict that is actually a matter for the respective tariff regions. In an initial reaction, the trade union Ver.di was critical: Such an increase in the current year was "a slap in the face for employees in the retail sector," said Ver.di boss Frank Werneke. That's 92 cents an hour for a saleswoman, and that means a loss of real wages. Workers are already receiving very low wages, and the inflation of recent months is eating away at wages."

Among other things, the union is demanding at least 2.50 euros more per hour and a term of 12 months in the retail sector in all regions. Depending on the federal state, further demands are added. In Berlin and Brandenburg, for example, the union wants to enforce an alignment of the collective bargaining terms. Traditionally, collective agreements in the two federal states expire later than in the rest of the country.

The negotiations are made more difficult above all by the tense economic situation in the industry. Having already lost a lot during the corona pandemic, the retail sector is now struggling with persistent consumer restraint in the face of high inflation. In the retail sector as a whole, price-adjusted sales in July were more than two percent below the previous year's figures.

Warning strikes in the regions

A pay increase of 5.3 percent is therefore already a big step from the employers' point of view. Ver.di, on the other hand, refers to the situation of the employees. "But they need livelihood-securing income increases with which they can make a living. They must be able to counter the extreme increase in prices," the union says.

For weeks, Ver.di has therefore repeatedly called for warning strikes in the regions, some of which last several days. As a rule, however, these do not mean that supermarkets and shops have to close – at best, it takes a little longer at the checkout on the corresponding days.