Education International
Education International

German educators take to the streets demanding better work conditions

published 9 March 2015 updated 11 March 2015

The Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft, together with other public sector unions, is organising strikes across Germany in pursuit of a salary increase and a collective agreement for the 200,000 teachers employed in public schools.

This action comes after public employers from the German states ( Länder) rejected the Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft(GEW) demands and negotiations on pay stalled. Strikes were organised on different days in several of Germany’s 16 states.

On 4 March in Cologne, Andreas Gehrke, a GEW Executive Board member and Head of the collective bargaining unit spoke to 1,000 striking teachers who protested and marched from the local officeof the Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund(DGB), the German Confederation of Trade Unions, to the city’s world-famous Cathedral.

The impact of the strikes widely varied from state to state across Germany from 3 March on, with schools in Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia, Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt most affected.

The “warning strikes” were called on 27 February following a bargaining round with employers, intended to signal that the unions were unhappy with the progress in negotiations focusing on the workers' call for a 5.5 per cent increase in pay - or a minimum increase of €175 ($195) a month - and better job security. They are not satisfied with the way the negotiations are progressing, especially with regards to pensions. A key demand is the issue of pay scales.

Two different classes of German teachers

Depending on which state they wish to work in, teachers in Germany are faced with the possibility, if indeed they are able to choose, of being employed either as fully-fledged civil servants (“Beamte”) or as regular employees (“Angestellte”). Numbering roughly 200,000, teachers employed under the latter scheme are paid less and do not have the job security enjoyed by the 650,000 civil servant teachers in public schools.

The ratio of civil servant to non-civil servant teachers varies widely across the country because in Germany, each of the 16 German states is responsible for organising its own education system. In Bavaria, almost all the teachers have civil servant status – 80 percent in North Rhine Westphalia, compared to about half in Berlin.

So teachers have the same job, the same qualifications, but significant differences in pay and conditions across states and job status.

Unifying complex system for all

“This system is incredibly complicated,” GEW spokesman Ulf Rödde said, adding that there are, in fact, 16 different systems because education in Germany is organised by each state. “And there are many disparities and injustices between them,” he said.

All of the teachers striking from 3 March belong to the employed teacher group, as civil servants are not allowed to strike.

“There must be a nationwide standardised classification, so that a teacher in a Realschule[secondary school] in Bavaria is paid just the same as, for example, in Saxony,” Rödde underlined.

The GEW is also calling for longer-term change, he said. “Inside the GEW, we have pleaded for a long time in favour of standardised rules for public services. That means, in principle, that the situation where we have these two statuses, employed workers or civil servants, would be abandoned,” Rödde said.