June 20. 2024. 1:12

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German workers want green transition, but not with lower pay


German workers support the transition towards climate neutrality, but do not want to move to a different place or obtain a job with lower pay for it, a new survey found.

As industrialised countries shift towards climate neutrality, some industries such as coal mining will have to disappear, meaning workers need to retrain to find employment in other sectors. Other industries, such as the car industry, will also see significant shifts in employment, as electric vehicles take fewer people to manufacture than internal combustion engines.

Workers in Germany are generally supportive of this transition towards climate neutrality, a new survey of the Wittenberg Centre for Global Ethics shows, with 59% saying that the transition should be accelerated.

In contrast, only 14% say it should be slowed down.

Similarly, half of the workers say they are willing to make their “own contribution” to the shift towards making Germany a “climate-neutral industrial location”.

However, the readiness strongly depends on the type of contribution that would be required from workers. While 62% say they are willing to obtain a new qualification in order to be able to work in a different field of activity or occupation, only 15% say they would be willing to take on a job with lower pay than before.

Meanwhile, 62% say they are not willing to take on a job with lower pay, with 24% being undecided.

Similarly, only 20% of workers say they are willing to move to a different location for a new job as a contribution to the green transition, with 57% saying they would not do so.

For the representative survey, which was commissioned by the industry-financed E.ON Foundation, 2,039 members of the German workforce, as well as students, were interviewed.

Need to shape the transition, not let the market solve it alone, workers say

In the view of workers’ representatives, the survey shows that the green transition needs to be well-organised by policy-makers and not shaped by markets alone.

“I think the study has shown very impressively that we are dealing with a formative task,” Frederik Moch, head of Structural, Industrial and Services Policy at Germany’s federation of Trade Unions (DGB), said at an event in Berlin on Thursday (2 March).

“You can’t just let the transformation run its course, things have to be managed,” he added.

For him, this mostly includes strong collective bargaining, as well as co-determination rights for workers.

“We know that wherever there is a culture of participation, employees are more involved in the innovation processes of a company, they are better able to contribute their own ideas, and companies are more competitive,” Moch said.

Commissioner: New European Works Council proposal by end of 2023

In an interview with EURACTIV, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit announced that the Commission would come forward with a legislative proposal to amend the European Works Council (EWC) Directive by the end of 2023.

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“You convince people with certainties,” Katzmarek said.

“If you say that in five years or ten years or 15 years – I don’t even want to start the time debate – your job will soon no longer exist, because we have a climate-neutral industry […], then, of course, they will first be afraid,” he said.

“You convince those with collective agreements, with works councils and with the absolute certainty that when they go into new business areas, for example, they will not suffer any loss, that they have collectively agreed conditions, that the material conditions are good and that they will not lose anything, but that they will gain from it,” he said.

Warning of increased polarisation

The study also shows the threat of increased polarisation, Katzmarek stressed.

While for 20% of respondents, “reaching climate targets” was named as the highest priority among other societal goals, such as reducing social inequality, securing employment, further digitisation, and ensuring competitiveness, 21% of workers also said that, for them, this has the lowest priority of all.

For Katzmarek, the study shows that low-income and middle-class workers must be convinced that the industrial transition can actually bring positive change for them; otherwise, there is a risk of polarisation, he said.

As such, it is crucial that people can see tangible results of what structural change actually means, he said. People used to come to him and complain that all the plans for regional development would just be a “castle in the air” without anything happening in practice, he continued.

“Now we have the most modern railway plant in Europe in Cottbus. 1,200 new jobs,” he said. “That’s a fantastic example of something happening.”

“And then you have to take people by the hand. You have to go to the plant, you have to say: This is transformation and this is structural change, and you can see that growing every day. And you can also work there in the future,” he said.

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