Questions & answers

Interview with Michael Sommer, President of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB)

Germany recently ratified two ILO’s Conventions N° 189 on Domestic Workers and the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (MLC). On this occasion, Michael Sommer, President of the Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB), replies to ACTRAV INFO. In this interview, Mr. Sommer gives his views about these ratifications of ILO instruments and the challenges for German workers on employment and social protection issues. As President of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), Mr Sommer also calls for a new policy against the crisis in Europe.

News | 08 July 2013
Germany recently ratified ILO Convention No. 189 as well as the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006. In your capacity as President of DGB, what do these two ratifications represent for workers in your country?

The Convention 189 means for us that we are discussing of at least 700.000 workers in this sector without social protection and the risk of exploitation. For us, the ratification is a first step on a large political debate on how to formalize this informal sector and protect the mainly female workers.

Regarding the MLC, Germany took more than seven years to ratify because they revote the whole German maritime labour code. En total there are 4000 German ships but only 300 are still under the German flag. For the 70.000 maritime labourers on the ships flagged out the ratification means an amelioration of their working condition. Unfortunately the new national maritime labour code has some setbacks for the German maritime labour force which is actually not allowed by the convention and we will follow this up - probably through the ILO supervisory mechanism.

One of the issues discussed during the 102nd Session of the International Labour Conference is employment and social protection in the new demographic context. What are the challenges for Germany on this issue with regard to workers?

German unions take responsibility to face the demographic change. An answer on this heritage has to consist out of two parts. On the one hand we need working conditions that ensure that workers can reach the retirement age without getting ill through work. We took several initiatives in this. On the other hand we have to take care about good education for workers. This involves postgraduate training.

What we do not need is a debate on the increasing of the retirement age. This is especially the case because most employers are not able to guarantee decent work condition so that workers would not get ill through work.

The current global crisis continues to have a negative impact for workers, mainly in Europe. As President of ITUC, what measures do you consider should be taken to help workers and their organizations?

We are faced with the complete failure of the politics in Europe. The hard austerity measures brought the people and the economies in the crisis countries out of the frying pan into the fire. Too many people lost their jobs and too many people are faced with the fear of poverty. That must have an end.

Europe needs a program to create growth and public spending in investment, to bring back the crisis countries back to a path of recovery. The DGB proposed the so called Marshall plan for Europe. Now it’s part of the politics to act.

Europe needs a change to more solidarity values. The people and their needs have to be in the centre and not the profits. The employment market has to be better shaped. The workers need decent jobs, fair wages, good and decent collective agreements and fair rules. If Europe wants to be fit for the future, we need binding regulations and social security.