Analysis: Enercon affiliate loses labour dispute over weekend work

GEMANY: Major German trade union IG Metall began a campaign in 2013 to get works council and trade union representation in the around 250 companies connected with the Enercon foundation, Germany's flagship turbine builder.

Reports are mixed on the harmony of cooperation between the new works councils and company management. The trade union continues to pressure for Enercon management to talk constructively with works councils that are critical of company practices.

A widely publicised dispute with the works council of WEA Service Ost, an independent company working exclusively for Enercon, has gone to the labour court in Magdeburg, in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt, with the upshot that the Enercon affiliate lost in the first instance.

The dispute started in May 2014 when Nils Holger Böttger, chairman of the works council founded at the WEA Service Ost Enercon subsidiary in late 2013, complained to the works manager that temporary workers were required to attend training courses at the weekend without payment.

WEA Service Ost, Magdeburg, was one of several independent service companies around Germany working exclusively for Enercon. Up to the end of 2014, each had a division for wind turbine service and a division for wind turbine installation using own and temporary staff. But by the end of 2014, contracts with labour supply companies were brought to an end as Enercon changed its structures for wind turbine service and installation.

Böttger said his complaint prompted the works manager at WEA Service Ost to phone the managing director of the Emsland-based labour hire company, Detmers Personaldienstleistungen, to discuss the issues. But he was not informed of the outcome, whereupon he phoned the labour hire company himself.

Böttger was then issued a warning for misconduct by WEA Service Ost management on 21 May 2014, for allegedly flouting the Works Constitution Act and making the complaint by telephone directly to the labour hire company without previously discussing the move with WEA Service Ost. If a further comparable misconduct occurred, the company warned it would apply to have him removed from his position, the Magdeburg court summary of its judgement dated 11 February 2015 revealed.

This prompted Böttger to circulate a sharply critical works-internal email headed: "The works council chairman says goodbye to all colleagues for the long [bank holiday] weekend with a short fairy tale." This was read by all regular employees and the temporary staff supplied by labour hire companies working at WEA Service Ost.

In particular, Böttger drew attention to temporary employees being expected to participate in training courses on Saturdays, often after a regular week's work of up to 50 or more hours, according to the Magdeburg-Schoenebeck branch of metal workers trade union IG Metall.

The temporary employees from the labour hire companies had in many cases worked for WEA Service Ost for up to ten years, the union added. The sharply worded email was said to be the reason behind Detmers Personaldienstleistungen declaring the end of its contract with WEA Service Ost, with effect at the end of 2014, according to the IG Metall.

Yet contracts with all labour hire companies supplying labour to independent WEA service companies for Enercon expired at the end of 2014, according to the union.

In a move planned since around 2011, Enercon has set up separate new companies WEC Installation and WEC Site Services, active from 2015, to take care of wind turbine installation and wind turbine service respectively. Aside from these WEC companies working exclusively for Enercon, Enercon is also now contracting installation services from independent labour-hire companies, such as Detmers and RTS Wind, which have teams ready for the work.

Following the contentious email, and the statement in which Detmers ended the labour hire contract, WEA Service Ost initially applied to the works council, as equied under labour law, for Böttger's immediate dismissal. The company claimed Böttger's email was defaming and damaging to business.

The works council turned down the request. The company then lodged an application on 25 June 2014 at the Magdeburg labour court to push through the dismissal.

The first hearing aimed at an amicable settlement was held at the Magdeburg court on 19 September 2014. No agreement was reached and the case was heard at the same court on 21 January 2015. The judgement setting out that WEA Service Ost had lost the case was handed down on 11 February 2015 - but the decision can be challenged at appeal and is therefore not yet binding.

The court cited several reasons for rejecting WEA Service Ost's case. It agreed with the works council argument that Böttger's email was within the realms of freedom of speech. Secondly, WEA Service Ost had not complied with the two week time limit for immediate dismissal after learning of the deed which it deemed as prompting a dismissal. WEA Service Ost knew of the email on 4 June 2014 at the latest, but lodged the application with the court to force the dismissal on 25.June 2014, according to the court report.

Speaking to Windpower Monthly about the court decision, Enercon said that an evaluation of the court decision would not be possible until the written text has been released, and only then will a decision be taken on whether to appeal.

"Independently of the outcome of this procedure, the management of companies working exclusively for Enercon in production and service continue to be open and positive towards a constructive dialogue with the respective works councils," Enercon said, adding it will "constructively support the possible resumption of activities" of the key person in the dispute, Nils-Holger Böttger.

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