Collective bargaining developments in the public services

(Updated 4 September 2020) This overview aims to provide the latest information on collective bargaining in the public service in Europe. It is based on reports published in EPSU’s fortnightly collective bargaining newsletter.

The practice and structure of collective bargaining varies considerably from country to country as does the provision of public services, with the private and non-profit sectors playing a significant role in some countries. This means that collective bargaining can be quite fragmented. This overview focuses on the main negotiations in each country but the collective bargaining newsletter often includes details of bargaining in smaller sectors, sub-sectors, private companies and non-profit providers.  

Below is a country-by-country summary where we indicate the state of play with information on recent agreements and/or the timing of upcoming negotiations. More countries will be added as we update this overview.

Eurozone

Germany

There are two main agreements covering the vast majority of public service workers. Both tend to be two-year plus agreements. The one covering 2.3 million federal and municipal workers runs from March 2018 to September 2020 and provided for three pay increases over that period worth around 7.5% in total with the latest increase implemented in March 2020. The agreement covering regional government employees runs from January 2019 with a similar overall pay rise with the final stage due in January 2021.

Negotiations over a new agreement covering federal and municipal workers began on 1 September. The collective bargaining committee of the main public service union ver.di agreed on a claim for a 4.8% pay increase (minimum EUR 150 a month) in a 12-month agreement and a EUR 100 increase for apprentices/trainees. There are several other elements to the claim covering extension and improvement in the part-time work scheme for older workers, equalisation of working time between East and West, additional holidays and some specific issues related to the health sector, including shift work and Sunday work allowances.

There is significant private for-profit and non-profit health and social provision with a number of separate agreements. In a significant development, ver.di has brought the BVAP eldercare employers to the negotiating table and is in the process of negotiating the first ever agreement for the sector. The negotiations are still underway but ver.di did manage to secure a one-off payment for all eldercare staff of EUR 1500 that will be paid in July.

France

The vast majority of public service workers are organised in three main sectors – national government/ministries, local government/territories and hospitals and healthcare – but effectively covered by one pay system and are still covered by statutes rather than collective agreements. Pay levels are determined by an index point system. Negotiations do not take place in a regular and formal way and public service unions have been campaigning for some time against imposed pay freezes or below-inflation increases in the index point. Pay was frozen, for example, from 2010-15 with two small increases in 2016 and 2017 then another pay freeze followed in 2018.

Since mid-June, trade unions have been negotiating with the government specifically over pay and jobs in the public and private health sectors. A €7.5 billion package has been supported by three of the main unions (CFDT, FO and UNSA) but not by the CGT. It will mean a €90 net increase a month for most health workers from September with a further €93 increase from March 2021. On top of this a working group will be set up to look at revaluating pay for certain occupations which will be implemented in January 2022. The lowest paid workers in the sector, currently on the minimum wage should see their pay increase by 15%. Around 8000 jobs will be created and 7300 vacancies filled. The main objection of the CGT relates to the problem of long working hours and failure to address supplements for overtime as well as night, weekend and holiday work.

Italy

There are several agreements covering the public sector which trade unions negotiate with the ARAN agency which operates on behalf of the government. There was a long-term freezing of collective bargaining – that is no bargaining took place rather than just a series of pay freezes – following the last economic and financial crisis with most of the main public sector agreements not updated for nine years or more. It was also common for negotiations to be extended and then implementation of agreements to be delayed as a result of waiting for government commitment to fund pay increases. The public sector framework agreement for 2016-18 was signed in November 2016 but it wasn’t until late 2017 and early 2018 that the actual agreements for central and local government and health were finally negotiated. More recently the agreement covering managers in health and local government was finally signed in July leaving only the agreement for staff of the Presidency and Council of Ministers to be updated for 2016-18. Collective bargaining has continued throughout the current crisis on matters such as health and safety but the trade unions have not yet taken the initiative to get bargaining started again on the main public sector agreements.

There is a sector agreement covering private healthcare which was finally re-negotiated in June 2020 after 12 years but the employers have since refused to ratify the deal and so the unions have started protest actions. If ratified, the main pay increase of EUR 154 would be worth 4.2% plus a EUR 1000 lump sum paid in two stages. The unions say that the agreement will bring private sector workers in line with those in the public sector. There is a broad range of other improvements in the new agreement covering working time, leave, training with the employers paying into a special fund, social dialogue and measures to tackle precarious work and workplace violence.

Spain

Most public service workers are covered by pay arrangements negotiated centrally and implemented by statute rather than collective agreement. The most recent pay rise (2%) was implemented in January and negotiated as part of a three-year deal in 2018. Cuts to pay and benefits were imposed following the last economic crisis and while there has been some restoration, unions are still pushing for the reinstatement of certain allowances and benefits. There is also concern among unions, particularly in the state administration, that certain elements of earlier agreements on pay and working conditions have not been fully implemented.

Netherlands

The vast majority of public service workers are covered by a range of collective agreements including separately national government, regional government, local government and various agreements in the health sector. The current state sector agreement runs to 1 July this year and negotiations were due to start in April/May but were postponed until June. Unions have rejected an initial pay offer arguing that a 0.7% pay increase and € 225 lump sum payment are inadequate recognition of the services provided by workers, particularly in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Details of other agreements include:

  • municipalities: runs from January 2020 to January 2021, with pay increases of 3.25% (October 2019), and three of 1% in January, July and October 2020
  • hospitals: covers 200000 workers and runs for 27 months from January 2020 with a 5% pay increase this year and 3% due in January 2021
  • care sector: (mainly for- and non-profit) runs from January 2019 to the end of August 2021 and includes pay rises totalling 6.5%
  • mental health: covers 89000 workers and runs from June 2019 to December 2021 with pay increases of 3.0% (October 2019), 3.0% (August 2020) and 2.1% in June 2021
  • public libraries: agreement runs 1 July 2020 to 1 July 2021 with a 3% pay rise will be backdated to 1 January and a further 2% increase in January 2021

Austria

Most public sector workers are still covered by statute rather than collective agreements but there are annual negotiations on pay that are implemented by statute. Negotiations normally being in the autumn with pay increases implemented in January or February the following year. Last year’s bargaining was finalised in November and an increase of 2.25% (3.05% for lowest paid) paid from 1 January 2020.

There is a substantial private health and social care sector with a collective agreement covering around 125,000 workers. Negotiations were already underway when COVID-19 struck and were resolved earlier than anticipated. The unions were pushing strongly for cuts in working time and have achieved a 37-hour week from 2021 but 35 hours remains the target. There was a pay rise of 2.7% this year and inflation plus 0.6% from early 2021.

There are also negotiations at regional level and the end of July saw negotiations finalised by public and private sector health unions on a special package of measures that included pay increases ranging from €97 to €194 a month for qualified nurses, midwives and clinical social workers. The pay rises will be implemented on 1 February 2021 .

Belgium

There are multi-layered negotiations across the different levels of government – local, regional and federal. The most recent developments have been in the health sector with a deal at federal level that also covers the private sector. Out of an extra €1 billion in funding from the federal government, €500 million will go towards the implementation of a new pay system and harmonisation of pay in the private and public sectors. Unions estimate this will mean pay increases of 5%-6%. €400 million will cover additional staff to ensure a better staff/patient ratio and 10% of this amount will contribute to improved training. €100 million is allocated to improving working conditions, including in particular more permanent contracts and more hours for part-time workers. There will also be new rights to take three consecutive weeks of annual leave, a right to training in general but also for workers' reps and other measures covering pensions and action to reduce burnout.

Finland

There are two main public sector agreements – one covering the state sector and the other covering local and regional government which includes healthcare. The latest state sector agreement was negotiated earlier this year and runs from 1 April to 28 February 2022. The 3.07% pay increase is in line with the going rate in industry. The much larger local and regional government agreement was finally agreed on 28 May. It covers the 23-month period 1.4.2020 −28.2.2022 and includes a first pay rise of 1.22% (or at least 26 Euro) on 1 August this year. Another pay rise of 1% will follow on 1 April 2021. There is also a sum of 0.8 per cent to be agreed at local level, valid from 1 April 2021. A key element in finalising the agreement was confirmation that healthcare workers will be covered by a separate agreement from September 2021.

Portugal

Public sector unions were already facing difficult negotiations with the government earlier this year and suspended protests and strike action in March in response to impact of COVID-19. The unions reacted angrily to the government’s offer of what would be in effect a 0.6% pay rise. They have been campaigning and negotiating for several years over a range of measures including pay, working time and career development, including action on pay to compensate for several years of pay freezes and low pay increases since the last crisis.

Croatia

The government initiated negotiations with public sector unions earlier this year with a view to not implementing a 4% pay increase this year (part of a total 6% rise, following a 2% increase in January) that was part of an earlier agreement. It also wanted to block increases in other allowances including the Christmas bonus. Following negotiations, the unions were able to secure a postponement of the increase and so the 4% will now be paid in January 2021 and the other allowances remain to be negotiated.  

Other EU

Sweden

The biggest public sector agreement covers around 350000 workers in local government, health and social care and in March negotiations were postponed until the autumn.

Denmark

The two main public sector agreements cover the state sector and local and regional government, including healthcare. The most recent three-year deal was negotiated in early 2018 and expires at the end of March 2021. There is a formula that links public sector pay developments with those in the private and sector and so there will be some constraint on what can be negotiated. Negotiations are unlikely to begin before January 2021 but they have been confirmed and unions have started internal discussions about the pay claim. The largest union, the FOA, is already focusing on trying to get a good deal for lower paid workers.

Czech Republic

Public sector pay deal negotiated last September with 7% increase implemented in January this year. The main health unions OSZSP and LOK have already indicated that they are aiming for a 15% pay rise in 2021 in response to 5% proposed by the health ministry.

Non-EU

UK

Negotiations covering local government workers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were effectively ended when the employers said that they couldn’t afford to offer more than 2.75% but were willing to go to the government to call for increased funding for 2021. Fourteen trade unions that organise workers right across the National Health Service have sent joint letters to the prime minister and chancellor (finance minister) calling for quick action to agree a pay rise for all health workers. The unions don't want a simple COVID-19 bonus but a pay rise that will help retain and recruit staff and address the falling purchasing power of health workers who have seen pay frozen or capped below inflation over the past 10 years. The unions are also clear that all support staff should be covered as well as those employed by private contractors.

The FBU firefighters’ union is concerned that employers have not reacted to the pay claim that it submitted in early June while the PCS civil service union has launched a petition on pay, again highlighting the long-term fall in purchasing power as a result of pay freezes and below-inflation increases. Around 900000 of the 4.4 million public sector workers are covered by pay review bodies. At the end of July the government confirmed that they would get pay rises of between 2% and 3.1%. These include the armed forces, judiciary and senior civil servants (2%), police and prison staff in England and Wales (2.5%), doctors and dentists (2.8%) and teachers in England (3.1%).

Norway

In August trade unions coordinated by the LO confederation have secured a NOK 975 (EUR 93) increase on monthly pay for all workers covered by the negotiations with the Spekter employers' organisation. Spekter covers major companies providing public services, particularly in health, culture and transport/infrastructure. On top of this general rise local negotiations should deliver further increases. LO Stat, the coordinating body, emphasises that the local negotiations should take account of the low pay, gender equality and the situation of skilled workers and graduates. Low pay in this context is anyone getting 90% of the average industrial wage or less. There are also initiatives focusing on sustainability and proposals to collect examples of how unions and employers are dealing with digitalisation and artificial intelligence. 

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