Public sector health workers across Germany go on warning strike

Public health sector employees in Germany have been concerned about the fall in real wages over three consecutive years. They are demanding fair contracts, an increase in wages, and more staff and resources

March 15, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
A protest for public sector healthcare workers in Germany
From the mobilization in Hanover on Tuesday (Photo: ver.di Hanover-Heide-Weser)

Workers in the public health services—including hospitals, psychiatry, nursing facilities, and emergency services—in various German cities began a two-day warning strike on Tuesday, March 14, demanding fair contracts, an increase in wages, and more staff and resources. Representing the health workers on strike, the Ver.di union has demanded a 10.5% increase in wages—at least 500 Euros (US$ 532)—for the workers.

According to reports, around 8,500 people demonstrated in front of the Town Hall in Hanover on Tuesday as part of the strike. The underfunded public health system in Germany, pushed to the brink by COVID-19, faces another round of crises in these times of soaring inflation.

The German government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has, however, not heeded the demands of workers even as it has sent funds, arms, and ammunition to Ukraine. Citing the annual report by the Federal Statistical Office, Ver.di has said that “real wages have fallen in the country for the third year in a row. Even though wages have gone up compared to the previous year, inflation will be more than double that in 2022, nearly 8%.”

On March 14, Ver.di said that “the offer that the federal and local employers had submitted in the second round already means a loss of real wages for all employees who are affected by the collective bargaining round. However, the VKA (The Confederation of Municipal Employers’ Organizations) has provided a particularly bitter pill for colleagues in the healthcare sector: they should forego wages if the employer is in a bad financial situation!”

According to reports, the wage negotiations between the VKA and the doctors’ union Marburger Bund also ended inconclusively. The doctors have called for compensation in wages at par with inflation since 2021 and an additional increase in fees of 2.5%.

The German left party Die Linke has expressed support and solidarity with striking workers in the public sector. On March 14, Die Linke (The Left) said that “the state of the German healthcare system is alarming: More than half of the clinics fear having to limit patient care due to financial undersupply. This emerges from the current ‘Hospital Index’ of the German Hospital Society.”

The third round of negotiation between VKA, ver.di, and the German Civil Service Association (dbb beamtenbund und tarifunion) is scheduled to start from March 27 and negotiations with doctors will resume from April 4. Earlier, on February 9, public service workers from various sectors—including health care, day-care, city administration, public transport, water distribution, universities, and municipal waste management—went on a warning strike protesting low wages and poor working conditions.