Collective bargaining agreement at public broadcasters: special path instead of compromise

Company pensions at ARD and Deutschlandfunk are to rise more slowly than salaries. This is what the broadcasters and the unions have agreed on.

Those who have their headphones on here still often get to hear how privileged they will be in old age Photo: dir

If someone who is not very well-disposed toward public broadcasting wants to illustrate that there is too much milk and honey flowing there, then he points to the pension scheme. Until now, company pensions there have risen dynamically, i.e., at the same rate as the salaries of active employees. That is now to change. ARD and Deutschlandradio have just agreed on this with the Ver.di union, the German Journalists’ Association (DJV) and the German Orchestra Association.

Under the new rules, company pensions would be increased by 1 percent less for pay increases of 2 percent or more, but by exactly 1 percent for pay increases between 1 and 2 percent. "The financial burdens imposed by the pension systems" would be "noticeably reduced," says ARD chairwoman Karola Wille. Frank Werneke, deputy chairman of Ver.di, speaks of "major material concessions."

Broadcasters and unions have been negotiating on the matter since 2013. In May of this year, there was a partial success: a so-called key points paper. After another round of negotiations, the parties reached a compromise. The talks had become necessary because ARD and Deutschlandradio had terminated the previous collective agreement on supply – in contrast to ZDF.

Implementation not yet certain

The debate gained momentum in 2016 when the Commission to Determine the Financial Requirements of the Broadcasting Corporations (KEF) criticized the high expenses for company pension plans in one of its regular reports. The commission put it at 2.12 billion euros for ARD, ZDF and Deutschlandradio for the period from 2017 to 2020. The fact that the agreement "at least in principle" takes into account the repeated demands of the KEF for a "limitation of the dynamization of company pensions" is judged positively by the Commission in response to a taz inquiry. However, it is still too early for a more detailed "evaluation".

Whether the fresh agreement will actually be implemented is far from clear. That depends on whether the foreign broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), which is also a public broadcaster but financed with taxpayers’ money, also adopts the regulation.

According to DW spokeswoman Vera Tellmann, however, that is not possible "with the best will in the world. Pensions already accounted for 13 percent of DW’s budget in 2015, and the trend is rising. If the arrangement reached by the unions with ARD and Deutschlandradio were adopted, it would rise even further. So while the reform would be a relief for the other broadcasters, it would mean the opposite for DW.

Further negotiations?

Deutsche Welle wants another negotiation date on September 12. However, Hendrik Zorner, spokesman for the DJV, says, "From our point of view, there is no need for negotiations." His association hopes that DW will "come to its senses" and accept the result. It is "hardly comprehensible" that the station is demanding "extra sausage" at a time when an agreement has been reached.

DW, on the other hand, accuses the unions of contradicting the "preliminary agreements" that had been made.

"We will not accept a special path," threatens Ver.di man Werneke. If no agreement is reached with DW, his union will "not support" the result for the ARD stations and Deutschlandradio either. The DJV does not want to put it so drastically. It does not want to "stir up a storm in a teacup," says spokesman Zorner.

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