German Ports and Workers Agree to Terms to End Three Months of Strikes

settlement German port labor dispute
Hamburg was one of the many North Sea ports hit by the strikes (file photo)

Published Aug 25, 2022 7:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

Germany’s unionized port workers and the association representing the seaport operators agreed to terms for a new contract after one of the longest running labor disputes in Germany in decades. The tentative agreement came just three days before a cooling-off period imposed by the Hamburg Labor Court was due to expire and removes the threat of further strikes which have been disrupting operations in all the North Sea Ports since June.

“This is a very good result. Our most important goal was real inflation compensation so that employees were not left alone with the consequences of the galloping price increases. We succeeded in doing that,” said ver.di negotiator Maya Schwiegershausen-Güth after the final collective bargaining round which concluded on August 23. The union, which represents more than 12,000 workers including the major ports of Hamburg, Bremerhaven, and Wilhelmshaven, reports that it is recommending that members accept the agreement, which is due to be finalized on September 5.

The first of the so called “warning strikes” in decades was carried out by the union members on June 9 in an effort to put increased pressure on Zentralverband der deutschen Seehafenbetriebe (Association of German Seaport Operators) was talked stalled covering 58 collective bargaining agreements. In the following weeks, the trade union Ver.di (United Services Union) sought to escalate pressure further through a series of follow-up strikes.

The issue came to a head after seven failed rounds of negotiations when ZDS went to the labor court. Citing the broader damage to the economy and disruptions to the supply chain, the court ordered the two sides back to negotiating table and set a moratorium on further strikes until August 26.

According to the union, it took 10 rounds of negotiations but they finally reached mutually agreeable terms. Depending on their positions, workers in container operations will on average receive a 9.4 percent wage increase including bonuses retroactive to July 1. Workers at general cargo operations receive a smaller 7.9 percent increase including bonuses.  Effective June 1, 2023, they all will receive a further 4.4 percent increase that could be extended to 5.5 percent based on the rate of inflation next year. They also agreed if inflation is above those levels to commence further negotiations for the second year of the contract which expires May 31, 2024. 

ZDS issued a brief statement at the conclusion of the negotiations saying it was pleased that the terms had been recommended for acceptance by the Federal Tariff Commission. They however noted that the terms also placed an increased burden on the seaport operators and would not only impact performance but also the competitiveness of the industry. 

Compensation addressing the retail inflation rate had been one of the major sticking points during the negotiations much as it has also emerged as a key point in the negotiations in the UK. Workers at the UK’s Felixstowe struck this week over similar concerns while the workers at Liverpool have also authorized a strike focusing on compensation that matches the rate of inflation.