Alexander Kirchner, Chair of German transport trade union EVG, spoke at ETF Women's Committee on 12 October 2015. His two key points were:
1. EU Fourth Railway Package
This package of proposals is driven by the European Commission to promote 'liberalisation' (ie. fragmentation and privatisation), but trade union campaigning has succeeded in getting the European Council to amend sections about separation of infrastructure and operations (opposing it) and procurement (allowing direct award of contracts rather than open competitive tendering in certain circumstances).
"Right-wing politicians argue that liberalisation of railways leads to lower prices, but in reality, they have become more expensive."
The campaign against liberalisation continues. One focus for the German unions is to ensure that when contracts are transferred, the new contractor must take on the existing workforce (as already happens in the UK and other countries).
2. Refugees and migrants
Hostility to migrants is reflected in the worryingly high vote for the anti-immigrant party in the recent Austrian election, and similar developments in other countries.
When right-wingers oppose migration, they fail to acknowledge that people leave our countries as well as coming to them. Over the past two centuries, many Germans emigrated, either fleeing political persecution or because they were unable to make a living at home. Germans moved to eastern Europe, to north and south America, to Africa - sometimes whole villages emigrated together.
There are currently 24 wars and 400 conflict zones in the world, many eg. Syria, with little hope of resolution soon.
"This is not a sideline topic. We have a responsibility as trade unionists to integrate migrants. If we fail, there will be a different Europe, one with large right-wing movements, one in which I would not wish to live."
Further points in reply to questions:
- Transport workers have been impacted by the refugees' arrival: 200,000+ refugees came by trains, hundreds of thousands are travelling on urban transport. This has meant extra workload and extra hours for transport workers, which they have been willing to do.
- EVG has taken part in round-table meetings with rail companies and training providers, to secure for migrant workers: jobs; training; language teaching; social support; representation and help from trade unions.
- In previous years, many young Spaniards came to Germany to work on the railways. Although they got jobs and housing, they did not get support with social integration, so many left.
- The union involves youth reps in this work and provides mentors for migrant workers.
- Germany needs new young workers because of its ageing population, and particularly lacks caregivers, nurses, etc.
- Right-wing politicians are trying to exempt immigrants workers from the minimum wage: the trade unions are opposing this.
- Employers want to exploit migrant workers to drive down pay: some even go to the refugee camps and recruit people to work for 3 Euros per hour (minimum wage is 8.50 Euros). The unions are demanding that the government acts to stop this.