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Germany

German metalworkers swap workplaces to boost upswing and save jobs

Metalworking industry employers and trade unions in the German state of Lower Saxony have signed an accord for the free exchange of staff to cope with rising demand as well as maintain skilled workforces.

A metalworker transporting a big diesel engine with a crane

Skilled metalworkers are in the focus of a new industry/trade union accord

Companies in the Hanover region of the German state of Lower Saxony have signed an agreement allowing workers to be freely deployed in different firms.

The deal struck on Monday between the engineering workers’ union IG Metall and the regional employers’ federation NiedersachsenMetall affects about 9,000 workers in 9 mostly medium-sized companies.

The agreement is intended to help companies with growing demand for their products expand production, while others, which do not yet enjoy the benefits of an upswing, can maintain their workforce of skilled personnel.

"Both the companies as well as the employees benefit from the accord," said Volker Schmidt, head of NiedersachsenMetall.

A chart of the business climate index made by the IFO Institute

As business outlook improves, some companies still lag behind

"We are experiencing robust growth in the industry in Germany," he said and added: "But while some companies, for example in the auto industry, are already facing a shortage of skilled labor, others have a surplus because production there hasn't picked up yet."

Swapping jobs to save them

The Wheel Loader manufacturer Komatsu Hanomag GmbH in Hanover is one of the companies willing to participate in the exchange program.

As a result of the economic slump, its 650 workforce has been working shorter hours for the past two years.

"It would be a huge relief for us if we could reduce payroll costs by placing some of our workers with other companies", said Hubert Bruening, the staff manager of the company.

Bruening also said he didn't fear losing his qualified staff because workers on the exchange program would remain contractually bound to his company.

Trade Union flexibility

The flag of the metal workers union IG Metal

The powerful IG Metall metalworker's union displayed new job flexibility

Under the agreement, workers receive the same pay and benefits as in their own company. The only difference is their place of work changes for a limited period of time.

The scheme is modelled on a tentative accord struck in 2004 in the city of Braunschweig.

"It's an experiment which has turned out to run surprisingly smoothly", said Hartmut Heine, district boss of IG Metall in Lower Saxony.

Heine said the scheme could become an important element in trade union efforts to secure jobs in times of crisis.

"In addition, the job exchange program may help alleviate a shortage of skilled workers expected in the German metalworking industry over the next few years," he said.

In the regions of Braunschweig and Hanover, there are already more than 30 metalworking companies with about 15,000 workers taking part in the scheme.

IG Metall said it would strive to expand the program to other regions in Germany, too.

Author: Uwe Hessler (dpa/AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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