Working Conditions under Economic Pressure: The Case of the German Cleaning Industry**

Article excerpt

This paper investigates changes in collective bargaining policy in the German cleaning industry in recent years. It uses the Socio-economic Panel (GSOEP) to survey employees on employment conditions and expert interviews with key members of the industry to look at possible new paths of development in the industry as well as the range of attitudes of the players involved. The socio-demography of the employees in the industry was given close attention and, with regard to collective labour agreements in the industry, the role of factors such as temporary employment and the EU eastern enlargement were taken into account in light of a climate of economic difficulties. This study uses Berlin to exemplify the current situation in this industry.

Key words: Building Caretakers, Precarious Work, Cleaning Industry, German Socio-Economic Panel (GSOEP), Collective Bargaining Policy

1. Introduction

The current changes in the working society are being accompanied by considerable challenges, for employees and for the German industrial relations system alike. In the field of research the cleaning industry, with approximately 900,000 predominantly female employees, is being largely neglected.1 The service ,,cleaning" consists of the cleaning of surfaces along with that of glass and building exteriors as well as the cleaning of construction sites, both during and after completion. In addition to this conventional activity some undertakings are also developing more complex proposals in terms of a comprehensive Facility Management.

In relation to this area we will be dealing exemplarily with two questions in the article at hand:

* How did the employment conditions in the cleaning industry look up until the most recent changes in 2003-2004? It is generally assumed that employment conditions in this line of business are especially unfavourable, while some characteristics of the industry, generally binding labour agreements in particular, demand a differentiated evaluation. This question will be addressed in chapter 3 with the data of the Socio-Economie Panel (GSOEP).

* How have the general conditions of the industry and the wage bargaining system themselves changed? Through the handling of this question in chapter 4 we will seek to understand how, in the area of contract cleaning, the change in basic economic and legal conditions have impacted on the industry itself.

The working of the above questions calls for a theoretical and methodical basis, one that will be described in advance in chapter 2.

2 Theory and Approach

2.1 Research Model

We assume here a three-step model consisting of the overall economy, businesses and employees (see Figure 1.) in which the three levels are linked to one another as follows (see Schramm 1999): the macroeconomic situation, to which we can add the current state of affairs of business sectors, branches or industry-wide institutions, acts on the one hand through the perceived working situation and reactions of management, and on the other through the reactions of the employees and public opinion (e.g., with regard to the perceived employment situation). The reactions of management and employees influence operational parameters such as efficiency, which, taken as a whole, have an influence on the macroeconomic situation.

The reactions of management also affect, among other things, the adaptation of production, technical and organisational innovations or alterations in labour utilisation strategies. The adaptation of a company in an altered overall economic environment depends on a multitude of factors.

The responses of the employees are influenced by the perceived employment or earnings situations. Certain employment situations, depending on varying sociodemographic factors, are perceived by those affected in light of their convictions and general expectations and lead to definite responses, particularly with respect to preferences and well-being as well as notions of behaviour. …