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Germany: green jobs do not always mean good jobs

by Charlotte Noblet

During the recent COP20 climate conference in Lima, the German government once again advocated a 40% cut in greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2020.

In response to this ambitious target, many German trade unions, fearing that more jobs will be affected by the transition, are joining forces to fight for "a sensible energy policy".

<p>In Germany, wind turbines are creating jobs, but often precarious ones.</p>

In Germany, wind turbines are creating jobs, but often precarious ones.

(AP/Heribert Proepper)

"High electricity costs in Germany represent a major constraint for investments, growth and jobs," says Michael Vassiliadis, president of the German mining, chemical and energy union IG BCE.

The trade unionist explains that many manufacturers are already taking flight due to the costly energy transition, especially since the plans were announced to phase out nuclear power by 2022: "During the first half of 2014, 60 billion euros in investments left Germany for the United States where energy is much cheaper."

German trade unions are calling for measures in the energy sector and have launched a joint campaign for "affordable electricity and respectable jobs".

According to a report by the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, there were 371,400 jobs in Germany’s renewable energy sector in 2013, which represents a fall of seven per cent relative to 2012.

Aside from the flight of investors, there are other reasons behind this trend.

 

Wind and solar power counter current

Jan Strohschein, CEO of Greenjobs, gives an overview of the employment trends in the sectors listed on his job vacancy site: "Since our web portal was launched in the year 2000, the number of job offers in the renewable energy sector has been constantly rising. The German industries related to wind power are doing very well. We have, however, observed a sharp fall in job offers in the biogas and solar energy sectors since 2013."

"The most drastic has been the jobs lost in solar panel manufacturing. Several companies have gone bankrupt, one after another," he adds.

"Many companies were not interested in solar power but wanted to make some quick money thanks to the subsidies," explains Sören Niemann-Findeisen, renewable energy expert for the metalworkers’ union IG Metall.

"They imposed mediocre wages, exploiting high regional unemployment rates."

"When the government changed its subsidy policy, the companies fired thousands of people."

"The former government also sounded the death knell for solar panel producers based in Germany by accepting unfair competition from China," added the trade unionist.

According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, almost half of the 100,300 people working in the solar PV industry in 2012 had lost their jobs in 2013.

By contrast, 16,000 new jobs were created in the wind turbine sector in 2013, taking the total to 137,800.

The majority are with traditional companies that have added renewable energy products to their portfolio, such as Siemens, which is manufacturing wind turbine blades.

"Suppliers like these usually respect the rates agreements," Niemann-Findeisen tells Equal Times.

"The new companies are slowly starting to accept the establishment of works councils (WC) and wages are rising, although they are still lower than those in other comparable industries."

"We are, however, having difficulties with Germany’s leading employer in the wind turbine sector, ENERCON, which employs 13,000 people."

"You generally have to start off as a temp for a year and then work under successive one-year fixed-term contracts for the next two years before being able to hope for a permanent contract," says Gerald Lindner, chairman of the WC set up in August 2014 at an ENERCON production facility in Magdeburg.

"And the management does everything in its power to intimidate you!"

Nils-Holger Böttger, who recently became the head of the Works Council at another ENERCON production site in Magdeburg, is at risk of losing his job for defending the temporary staff there.

Accodring to ENERCON, the criticism by the union does not rely on objective data.

"ENERCON produces internationally, with 17,000 employees in 30 countries. Such a success demands a company structure that maintains a daily open dialogue with all the workers,", says Felix Rehwald, who works for the public relations department. « That is why we offer our employees good and attractive jobs, and that we give possibilities to train young people."

Whilst the German government is promoting the export of German technological expertise with the new website greentech-made-in-germany.de and is launching a federal action plan on energy efficiency, Stefan Körzell, an executive member of the German trade union confederation DGB warns: "Wage dumping, temporary work, subcontracting and the banning of all social dialogue must not become the hallmark of renewable energies."

 

This article has been translated from French.

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