Musk on a collision course with German union

Tesla’s planned gig factory in Germany

Tesla and its maverick owner may have got away with anti-worker and anti-union practices in the US, but their new factory in Germany will be a different story

By Tony Burke

When Elon Musk, the billionaire owner of electric auto maker Tesla, landed his private jet in Berlin in November (unannounced, in the middle of Germany’s national lockdown) he tweeted he was there to recruit engineers.

‚ÄúRecruiting ace engineers for Giga Berlin! Will interview in person tomorrow on site,‚ÄĚ he wrote. Within minutes thousands of engineers replied seeking an interview.

Tesla, a hi-tech manufacturer, may attract many young and aspiring engineers and technical staff to their employment. But Musk is no fan of trade unions. Tesla workers in the USA have filed complaints about low pay and poor working conditions. Musk himself has opposed workers’ attempts to unionise.

An official of the largest trade union in Germany, IG Metall, said: ‚ÄúWe are in touch with our sister organisations at other Tesla facilities [in the US] so we are fully aware of personal allegations, as well as legal accusations and litigations against Tesla.‚ÄĚ

Tesla‚Äôs new giga factory in Grunheide south-east of Berlin is aiming to build 500,000 electric vehicles a year in Germany. Tesla says it will recruit 12,000 workers ‚ÄĒ from engineers, warehouse workers and printing technicians with a production start-up planned for the summer of 2021.

Musk has clashed with IG Metall before at Grohmann Engineering in the small town of Prum in 2017. He bought the company and turned it into the Tesla Advanced Automation Group and tried to negotiate directly with its workers.

After much wrangling, an agreement for a 30 per cent salary increase, a one-off payment of $10,000 in cash or Tesla stock over four quarters and job guarantees until at least 2022 was agreed with the works council.

Recruitment for jobs at the new giga factory is being undertaken by an employment agency in Frankfurt which is recruiting workers from Brandenburg and Berlin, many of whom are unemployed or are changing jobs.

They are also now offering wages which are higher than the current median wage in Brandenburg. The lowest wage group at Tesla are offered a salary of ‚ā¨2,700 (¬£2,450) per month, while employees with relevant vocational training will receive ‚ā¨3,500 (¬£3,200) per month.

Tesla‚Äôs work culture has become notorious in recent years. ‚ÄúWorkers are expected to do anything and everything to get cars off the assembly line on time,‚ÄĚ says Steve Smith, communications director of the California Labour Federation (CLF).

Musk is known for being ‚Äúextremely anti-union,‚ÄĚ adds Smith and has even broken laws to prevent his workers at the Fremont Plant in California from unionising.

This has reportedly had serious consequences for some workers ‚ÄĒ both in terms of their pay and benefits, but also in terms of their health and safety. One report stated that long hours of physical labour caused six of a team of eight workers at Fremont to take simultaneous medical leave.

IG Metall has played an important role in keeping the German automotive sector both stable and innovative through collective agreements that apply to the whole industry ‚ÄĒ but not at the expense of undercutting pay, conditions and workers‚Äô rights.

Steve Smith of the CLF says: ‚ÄúInnovation is not exploitation ‚ÄĒ and that‚Äôs something that CEOs like Elon Musk just don‚Äôt understand. Exploiting your workforce is in no way furthering the cause of progress ‚ÄĒ in fact, it takes us back in time 100 years before we even had labour laws.‚ÄĚ

According to Musk, it‚Äôs the unions that are stuck in the past. During the dispute at Grohmann industries, he referred to IG Metall as having ‚Äúoutdated values.‚ÄĚ
IG Metall has welcomed the company and its investment and offered an opportunity for dialogue. But so far, Tesla hasn’t responded.

Musk will also be minded that IG Metall, in its fight to win a 28-hour working week for better work-life balance and a 4.3 per cent pay deal, staged a series of warning strikes that cost the likes of Porsche, Daimler, BMW and Airbus ‚ā¨200 million in lost production.

It would be a major mistake for Musk to think he can avoid German labour standards ‚ÄĒ as one IG Metall official stated: ‚ÄúWorkers‚Äô rights are rights. They are not up for discussion.‚ÄĚ

Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, European Employment Rights, International Employment Rights, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The campaign to promote workers’ rights in trade deals must be global

By Rosa Crawford TUC

26th November 2020

Multinational business is lobbying for trade deals which will increase their profits at the expense of workers’ rights. But trade unions across the world are fighting back.

Since 2016,¬†the government has been pursuing what it has termed a ‚ÄėGlobal Britain‚Äô agenda.

Harking back to the days of Empire¬†in¬†both¬†tactics and imagery,¬†this agenda has mainly consisted of¬†the¬†government¬†joining arm in arm with¬†Global North allies¬†‚Ästthe¬†US,¬†Canada,¬†Australia and New Zealand –¬†to talk up the prospects of trade deals¬†while¬†pressuring Global South¬†countries¬†‚Äď most recently Kenya – to sign trade deals.

It is clear that multinational business is driving this agenda.

Multinationals have successfully lobbied for the UK (like the majority of countries) to pursue trade deals that will increase their profits by reducing protections for workers’ rights, social standards and protections for public services, and displacing workers from good jobs to create a more exploitable, vulnerable workforce.

But workers are fighting back.

As we have always done when international capital threatens workers, unions are organising globally.

Unions around the world are calling for trade agreements and policies that guarantee protection for workers’ rights, public services and good jobs.

In the last year, the¬†TUC has¬†joined with trade unions in¬†the¬†US,¬†Kenya,¬†Japan,¬†Australia,¬†New Zealand¬†and¬†Norway¬†–¬†key countries the UK is negotiating,¬†or has agreed,¬†trade deals with¬†–¬†to affirm these shared principles¬†in a series of joint statements.

Our shared goals are to:

  • Promote good jobs

Promoting good jobs in the UK means first and foremost securing a trade deal with the EU as our largest market, on which millions of good, unionised jobs in the UK depend.

No trade deal with another country can replace the EU, in terms of significance for jobs and the economy in the UK.

For workers in Global South countries, it is crucial that the UK does not pursue trade deals that pressure governments to lower tariffs on domestic industries and agriculture. The TUC and unions in Kenya have condemned the recently agreed UK-Kenya trade deal that will compel Kenya to remove tariffs on its domestic industries. This will allow cheaper UK goods to undercut domestic products in Kenya, displacing workers from stable employment and forcing them to seek work in the informal economy where exploitation is common and pay is low.

  • Require respect for fundamental labour standards¬†

Offering to sign a trade deal with another country gives the UK significant political leverage in the negotiation. This should be used to ensure countries respect fundamental workers’ rights as a condition for a trade deal with the UK.

Unfortunately so far, the UK has failed to make this a condition and has negotiated trade deals with countries such as Colombia where fourteen trade unionists have been murdered in the last year and widespread human rights abuses are taking place.

  • Effectively enforce¬†respect for workers‚Äô rights

Trade deals must contain a mechanism for sanctions to be applied on countries and companies violating workers’ rights. Trade unions must be involved in this process to ensure action is taken when workers’ rights are abused.

In UK trade deals, it is solely up to the government to decide whether to take action. Unsurprisingly, this has resulted in no action being taken against countries that breach commitments they made in trade deals with the UK to respect International Labour Organisation standards, such as Colombia and South Korea.

It’s critical that the UK signs a trade deal with the EU that contains effective measures to enforce workers’ rights and a role for trade unions in monitoring these commitments.

Securing such a trade deal would set a precedent for other trade deals to enforce a high standard of workers’ rights.

Without this agreement, the door will be opened for standards to be lowered significantly in the UK. Given the interconnected nature of the economy, this will pressure standards to be lowered across the world.

  • Protect¬†public services

Trade deals must entirely exclude public services to defend them from privatisation and attacks on workers’ wages and conditions.

Unfortunately, the trade deals the UK has agreed so far, such as the recently agreed UK- Japan trade deal, do not contain exemptions for public services and instead lock in privatisation for parts of the public sector.

While the approach of President-elect Biden towards UK-US negotiations remains to be seen, the US pharmaceutical industry is likely to keep pushing for the UK to drop protections on drug pricing as part of a UK-US trade deal to allow them to increase their profits.

  • Involve trade unions in negotiations¬†

Trade deals are legal documents, so every word matters.

It is crucial trade unions can comment on the text of trade negotiations to ensure they adequately provide the protections listed above for workers’ rights and public services. And as a principle, unions must have access at least equal to that of employers.

Trade unions in some of the countries the UK is negotiating trade deals with, such as the US, can comment on the text of trade negotiations. The UK government should follow a similar approach.

The way ahead

The TUC will continue to work with trade unions globally, developing joint lobbying to push for a trade agenda that promotes these key principles. This is particularly important in countries such as Japan, Norway and now the US, where trade unions have significant influence over their government’s trade agenda.

By building this strength globally, we can push back against the agenda of multinational companies to increase profits at any cost.

Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, European Employment Rights, International Employment Rights, New Generation Of Trade Agreements, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

Unions Call On Government Not To Scrap RPI

The general secretaries of Britain’s largest unions have today (Wednesday) issued a joint statement calling on the government not to scrap the RPI measure of inflation. 

A decision on the future of RPI is expected to be announced alongside the Spending Review on 25 November.

The statement reads:

As representatives of workers and pensioners, we are deeply concerned by the imminent threat to scrap the RPI measure of inflation.‚ÄĮ¬†

This is not a technical issue. Getting rid of RPI would affect millions of working people ‚Äď both in terms of pay and pensions.¬†

Two-thirds of private sector schemes are still uprated by RPI. ‚ÄĮShifting to the proposed CPIH measure would leave the average male worker with a private sector pension ¬£11,000 worse-off in retirement. And it would leave the average woman worker on a private sector scheme ¬£14,000 poorer. That is not right.¬†

And if future pay bargaining moves from RPI to CPIH this could reduce pay rises by more than £350 for the average full-time UK worker. 

Nobody is claiming the RPI is perfect. But it remains the best measure for living costs and would be straight forward to modernise. 

As has been shown across Europe it would be perfectly possible to have RPI existing in parallel to CPIH (‚Äčor CPI) and have the latter measure focus on guiding monetary policy.¬†

We are disappointed that expert calls to retain the RPI have been repeatedly ignored. The Royal Statistical Society and House of Lords Economic Affairs ‚ÄčCommittee have both presented compelling evidence for keeping it.‚ÄĮ ‚ÄĮ‚ÄĮ¬†

We urge the government to listen to these bodies and to unions. Scrapping RPI will hit workers in the pay packet and make it harder for them to have dignity in retirement. 

And it will damage the reputation of inflation measurement in the UK.‚ÄĮ¬†

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, TUC

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON

Len McCluskey, General Secretary, Unite

Warren Kenny, Acting General Secretary, GMB

Dave Ward, General Secretary, CWU

Dave Penman, General Secretary, FDA

Steve Gillan, General Secretary, POA

Mick Cash, General Secretary, RMT

Manuel Cortes, General Secretary, TSSA

Ged Nichols, General Secretary, Accord

Steve Jamieson, General Secretary, College of Podiatry

Dr Paul Donaldson, General Secretary, HCSA

Dilwyn Roberts-Young, General Secretary, National Union of Teachers Wales

Brian Strutton, General Secretary, BALPA

Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, UK Employment Rights | Leave a comment

TUC – Norwegian Unions – Free Trade Deal

The TUC has joined¬†Norwegian unions in calling for any trade deal between UK-Norway to enforce protections for workers’ rights, public services and migrant workers’ rights.

Click here to read the full statement: LO Norway TUC joint statement on trade talks



Posted in Campaign For Trade Union Freedom News, International Employment Rights, New Generation Of Trade Agreements, UK Employment Rights, Uncategorized | Leave a comment