Deutsche Bahn EWC negotiates its first ‘European social plan’

Deutsche Bahn EWC negotiates its first ‘European social plan’

Well-known German rail operator Deutsche Bahn is to divide its accounting businesses across three new centers. For Europe, the Global Accounting Shared Service Center Europe will no longer operate from Germany but instead will move to Romania’s capital city, Bucharest. To smooth out the social consequences of this merger/relocation operation, the Deutsche Bahn EWC has succeeded in securing an agreement that amounts to a real “European social plan” covering all the employees affected across almost 26 European countries. Deutsche Bahn EWC president, Jörg Hensel agreed to relate this unusual experience as well as the details of the agreement to Planet Labor. The Deutsche Bahn EWC hopes to replicate this experience globally.

Two years of negotiations to achieve a European social plan. It was on 15 October 2013 during an ordinary EWC* meeting that Deutsche Bahn management officially presented its consolidation and relocation plans for the group’s accounting business. It is also the very day that negotiations with the EWC started: “Deutsche Bahn will make Berlin its German accounting center and Bucharest its European accounting center. The Philippines will operate as the center for all other global activities. The European consolidation takes place from 2015 until 2018 and initially affects Arriva, Schenker Logisitics and Schenker Rail. In total, 26 countries are involved, including Switzerland and Norway,” stated Jörg Hensel, who continued by saying, “Faced with a process that will lead to several position losses as well as layoffs, the EWC sought to establish protection conditions and minimum levels of assistance for the whole of Europe. Some countries have significant protection provisions whilst others hardly have any. We thus asked management to start negotiations on this issue. Following two years of open, albeit tight, negotiations we have signed a company agreement that we can actually qualify as a European social plan because it shares all the characteristics of such”. For Jörg Hensel, Deutsche Bahn management started negotiations with a view to offering ‘a decent level of assistance’ for changing positions and or changing careers. However it wasn’t expecting that the process would actually go as far as it did, “It’s the first time that the EWC has negotiated at this level and to this extent. Regular intermediary meetings were necessary to inform the employee representatives in the seven countries most impacted by the consolidation program. On top of this, we all had to learn how to play the poker game. Indeed, given the different social legislations operating in the various countries, some of the employee representatives were happier than others to close out negotiations earlier than later. All of this combined made for intense exchanges of views. However by the end we are very pleased with the results and with the process that took us there,” concluded Jörg Hensel. The agreement, which the EWC prefers not to publish, was signed in October 2015, two full years after negotiations got underway.

The agreement’s contents. Deutsche Bahn had of course proposed to the employees affected by the relocation process that they could keep their jobs, provided that they moved to Bucharest. “Nobody volunteered to go. In the end Deutsche Bahn had to reclassify roughly 1,000 employees and then go and hire between 600 and 700 in Bucharest that could speak Romanian with at least some of them speaking a second European language (the language of a country where Deutsche Bahn was active). This was, I can promise you, no mean feat, not least because the company wasn’t alone in looking to hire this employee profile. Indeed, the Bucharest center has started operating and already there have been problems related to quality,” commented Mr. Hensel. The signed social agreement contains the following measures:

  • Management will inform the EWC, in writing and on a monthly basis, as to progress with the reclassification program
  • Priority is given to employee transfers within the group as follows: first, transfers within the same business unit and in the same location, next, transfers in the same business unit and located in the same country, then, transfers to a Deutsche Bahn subsidiary located in the same country, and finally, transfers to a Deutsche Bahn subsidiary located in a different country. Currently the transfer program has started quietly but purposefully and Mr. Hensel referred to an example where seven out of eight affected Belgian employees had already transferred to other positions within the same subsidiary.

To facilitate the process Deutsche Bahn commits to:

  • Coordinating the transfer activity with the HR departments of the different business units within a given country
  • Setting up and leading individual career advice meetings to help with employee job searches
  • Giving access to the specific training required for a transfer to be successful
  • Guaranteeing ‘mobility packages’ to smooth the financial burden of relocating and moving (moving charges are covered once home to work travel times exceed 240 minutes)

If a transfer to another full time position within the company is not possible then Deutsche Bahn also commits to:

  • Paying redundancy compensation
  • Offering part time work
  • Investigating the possibility of early retirement
  • Financing job searches outside the company

In addition, in those countries with no labour legislation covering these issues, Deutsche Bahn and the EWC will negotiate minimum levels of social protection based on provisions in other European countries with better protection levels, in order to guarantee:

  • Longer notice periods
  • Access to training
  • Access to mobility assistance
  • Financial assistance in situations of significant social difficulty. A fund will be established to assist this category of employees. Access to the fund would be under the condition that the local social partners were in agreement. The fund will be managed by Deutsche Bahn JobService GmbH. Those receiving assistance will be able to do so for a period of one year.

Finally, should there be any disputes, the agreement provides for the intervention of an arbitration committee comprising one representative from central management, one representative per subsidiary (with the three subsidiaries affected being: Arriva, Schenker Logistics, and Schenker Rail), and four EWC representatives.

Towards a global works council? “This agreement is a very important step for our EWC. After it was set up in 2005, the EWC first went through a starting and implementation phase where our work was limited to transferring information gathered during the two mandatory annual meetings with management across the different countries. At the time Germany had a predominant weight in the EWC. We weren’t yet truly European,” recalled Mr. Hensel. Then, step by step, confidence and knowledge about the various countries grew (situations, legislation, traditions) and as a result the EWC also, little by little, found its European vocation, based on projects that became increasingly concrete so that today one out of every two meetings are held outside of Germany. Although at the time this in itself was a cause for heated debate, nowadays it goes without saying. Creating a new type of union culture requires a lot of exchange, a lot of confidence, and a lot of time,” stated Jörg Hensel, for whom the negotiation of this agreement on the social consequences of the accounting businesses relocation is symbolic of the EWC moving into a different operational dimension. “Other projects are on the horizon going forward, with for example the project to negotiate internal European standards for employee profit sharing. Indeed, what we have done for Europe and for Bucharest we would like to do for the global center in the Philippines. We spoke to management about this and were quickly informed that our remit remained strictly within Europe. Thus we are starting to think about the possibility of one day establishing a global works council,” concluded Mr. Hensel.

* The Deutsche Bahn EWC was set up in 2005

Source: Planet Labor, 23 February 2016

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