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Germany’s Constitutional Court to judge Lower Saxony’s Bonus policy

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Wikipedia currently has this to say about Deutscher Beamtenbund (Civil Service Federation): Deutscher Beamtenbund is a national trade union center of Germany.

Actually, the DBB isn’t a classical trade union. Its members are civil servants – normally not subject to be sacked, and in return expected to be particularly loyal to the constitution, and not entitled to go on strike to push their incomes.

Maybe the ban on strikes is one reason why the civil servants are said to turn to the courts rather frequently.

As Neue Presse reports, until last month, it was the administrative court in Braunschweig (also known as Brunswick, Lower Saxony) that mulled over a case brought by a Lower Saxonian tax inspector from the same town against the Lower Saxonian federal state government. The inspector’s case, along with four more in this state, is supported by the Civil Service Federation. In the end, the administrative court adjourned the case to ask the constitutional court for a decision.

Remuneration for public servants, just as German wages and salaries in general, is a complex structure. There are bonuses for all kinds of situations of the individual civil servant, considering if he or she has family, how many children to take care of, his or her way to work, etc. And then there are the christmas and holiday bonuses, and these are the bonuses the constitutional courts will have to decide about – sort of. The actual case is more comprehensive.

Lower Saxony was the first federal state in Germany to scrap christmas and holiday bonuses for its civil servants altogether. (Yes, most Lower Saxonian teachers, like me, are civil servants, too.) Only civil servants in the lower salary bracket (about ten percent) continue to receive reduced bonuses. According to the Beamtenbund, the reductions amount to 600 mn Euros less in Lower Saxony’s budget. If the Constitutional Court decides in favour of the plaintiff, this would have implications not only for Lower Saxony’s budget, but also for civil servants’ remuneration elsewhere in Germany.

The plaintiff is from Braunschweig. After the bonuses in question were scrapped, he didn’t consider his remuneration as an adequate any more. As his case isn’t really about the specific bonuses in themselves, but about the adequacy of his income in general, and as Germany’s Basic Law (the constitution) stipulates that civil servants must get an adequate remuneration, the Constitutional Court seems to be in charge. (If this refers to article 33, para 5, literally, the Basic Law wants the law of public service to be arranged and further developed by considering the customary principles of civil service (Berufsbeamtentum), according to a source at the Bundestag (Germany’s federal parliament).

What’s adequate, and what’s the customary principles? This this is basically decided between the state as one party, and the civil servants as another. There are some stakeholders on the one hand (federal, state and local governments), and less than a handful of negotiators on the other (The GDP, the Civil Service Federation plus the GEW probably are the biggest of them).

But many of their members are apparently not happy with the agreements their unions and association achieve at the negotiation table – and no matter how much or little the civil servants’ remuneration is, they can’t simply look for a new employer, when only the state can use their skills. If possible, the customary principles within the law of civil service make things even more complicated than in industrial collective bargaining. Hence the lawsuits.

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Written by taide

October 21, 2008 at 11:10 am

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