Pasta: Why the wage dispute in Riesa is so bogged down

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Negotiations will be held in Riesa on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the company is apparently considering outsourcing production to Bavaria. An overview.

From Stefan Lehmann

Riesa. Will a former prime minister and a former labor judge ensure a breakthrough in the wage dispute at Pasta Riesa? In the seventh week, the situation continues to seem very muddled. On Tuesday, with the support of Matthias Platzeck (SPD) and Gerhard Binkert, a moderator is supposed to ensure that negotiations can at least continue. Beforehand, Sä summarizes what has happened so far in the wage dispute.

What does the union want?

The NGG trade union has represented the interests of pasta employees since the summer of 2018, when a works council was formed at Pasta. Since then, the workforce has achieved a lot: In 2019, both sides agreed in principle on a collective agreement, which was also concluded the following year. In September 2021, wages rose again, by one euro per hour. In the longer term, however, the union wants to achieve alignment with the level in the West. Because the minimum wage has now also risen, the NGG also demanded higher hourly wages after the peace period expired in September: two euros more.

What did the company offer?

The management's offer had so far varied only in nuances. In essence, employees are being offered an hourly wage increase of 1.20 euros, which corresponds to a ten percent increase across all wage groups. For comparison: The latest collective agreement in the metal industry provides for an 8.5 percent wage increase.

Teigwaren Riesa argues that the company is facing hard times due to rising energy and raw material prices. However, the company cannot simply pass on higher production costs to the sales price. Delivery prices are negotiated in talks with food retailers.

What it looks like when there is no agreement was seen in 2021: At times there were no noodles from Riesa at Kaufland.. The pressure will not decrease in the future. In Erfurt, the Schwarz Group, to which Kaufland also belongs, had recently acquired a pasta plant. This is why people in Riesa are also worried.

How much money do pasta employees currently earn?

There are currently five pay scale groups in the company. In the lower two, in which 40 percent of the workforce is classified, hourly wages are 11.46 euros and 12.51 euros. According to Pasta, this is supplemented by shift bonuses, compensated commuting times, and Christmas and vacation bonuses.

Who actually pays the strikers?

Those who go on strike get less money. Employees receive between 60 and 85 percent of their salary as strike pay from the union. To compensate for hardship cases, the NGG had already set up a strike fund. Most recently, IG Metall from Dresden and Riesa also donated 500 euros.

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Why do wage disputes escalate like this every time?

NGG negotiator Olaf Klenke confirms that it is easier to find compromises elsewhere. He refers to the example of a dairy in Niesky, where an agreement was reached in August.

Without strikes, there was no agreement. Anyone who talks to representatives of both sides at least gets the impression that mutual trust could be a problem here as well as there. The relationship between the Freidler family of owners and the workforce has suffered badly recently. In 2018, the head of the works council at the time was temporarily banned from the company. A short time later, the managing director Martin Steidl resigned. According to Steidl at the time, there were differences of opinion about people management and dealing with the workforce and works council.

Conversely, the management reproaches the NGG for the way it acts in the labor dispute. For example, it undermines the autonomy of collective bargaining by writing to politicians. Both sides have accused each other of a lack of willingness to compromise since the beginning of the dispute, and the pasta company recently spoke of blackmail.

What can the announced moderation bring?

The main purpose of moderation is to bring both sides back into the discussion. Opinions differ as to whether it is the right means. "The aim of the proposal was to find a discussion situation that is factual and solution-oriented," the company says. "This was not possible in this way in the previous rounds with the NGG."

In contrast, Olaf Klenke had recently stated that, in his view, there were no atmospheric disturbances that needed to be resolved. Nevertheless, the union is also in favor of talks in principle. It is clear that both moderators are experienced in the matter and had already been involved in similar proceedings.

What do customers notice about the strike on supermarket shelves?

The extent to which the strike will affect the company economically remains to be seen. Unlike in previous years, Riesa Pasta is keeping a low profile this time. However, production was only on a small scale, they say. Meanwhile, the NGG accused the company on Monday of having partially outsourced the production of Riesa pasta: to the Bavarian manufacturer Bernbacher. "If this is true, it would be another low point in the wage dispute," the union said. Teigwaren Riesa did not want to comment on the accusations in view of the upcoming talks on Tuesday.

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