On the union side, Michael Vassiliadis cheered the loudest. The chairman of the mining, chemical and energy industrial union (IG BCE) praised the traffic light parties for “a strong offer to the collective bargaining partners to make 3,000 euros in additional payments from companies to their employees tax and duty-free”. Two weeks ago, Vassiliadis called for exactly that by announcing a “collective bargaining allowance” for 580,000 chemical workers in view of the forthcoming round of collective bargaining: A temporary special payment that the state will make tax and duty-free. Based on the model of the Corona premium, but with one serious difference: The Corona premium was capped at 1500 euros.
How many employees received a Corona bonus is an open question. Neither the Federal Statistical Office nor the Ministries of Finance and Labour/Social Affairs have any data on this. A point of reference can be found in the evaluation of collective bargaining agreements for the Corona year 2021: “The agreements on the Corona premium vary between 90 euros in the confectionery industry and 1300 euros in the public sector in the federal states,” writes the collective bargaining archive of the trade union Böckler Foundation. “Most collective agreements provided for corona bonuses of between 400 and 600 euros.” Since only just under half of the employees nationwide are paid according to collective agreements, most employees are unlikely to have received any special payments at all.
With the inflation premium of 3000 euros, it will hardly be any different. Which employer voluntarily pays its staff a special bonus, especially since the energy costs are also a burden on the companies and the overall economic trend is heading towards recession?
The head of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association (Dehoga), Ingrid Hartges, recognizes the possibility of tax-free special payments as a “measure for employee retention”, which many companies have used. However, Hartges cannot say how many of the almost 200,000 companies in the hospitality industry have paid a corona premium. For them it is important that the companies pay the premiums “on a voluntary basis” – the employer alone decides whether and how much is paid.
The Confederation of Employers’ Associations (BDA) welcomed “the tax exemption of up to 3000 euros (…) as a constructive contribution to the next ‘concerted action’ with the social partners”. Olaf Scholz invited employers and trade unionists to this on September 15th.
The inflation premium can help the trade unions to meet the expectations of the members in the coming collective bargaining rounds and not to burden the companies too heavily with wage percentages. That is the calculation of the employer – and the traffic light. “As part of the ‘concerted action’, the federal government is discussing with the social partners how the increased prices and the associated real loss of income for employees can be dealt with,” says the third relief package to justify the inflation premium. And further: “The social partners are developing practical solutions.” Whatever that may mean. The social partners mean the collective bargaining parties. Only they will be able to make binding agreements about the new special payment.
The Corona Tax Assistance Act of June 19, 2020 provided for the Corona premium, which was extended several times and finally expired in the spring. From March 2020 to March 2022, a special payment from the employer totaling 1,500 euros was exempt from taxes and duties. It was also possible to grant the Corona bonus in the context of marginally paid employment (450 euro mini-job) or for part-time employees. The prerequisite for tax exemption was that the benefit was paid in addition to wages.
“While the Corona bonus was originally intended primarily for those employment groups who were exposed to particular stress under the conditions of the pandemic, it was extended to all employees in many collective agreements and took the place of a regular collective wage increase,” writes the Böckler Foundation . Typical of this is the collective agreement for more than one million employees in the federal states last autumn: Verdi and the collective bargaining community of the federal states agreed on a corona bonus of 1,300 euros, which was paid out at the beginning of 2022. The increase in fees by 2.8 percent will not come until next December.
Following the chemical and metal industry unions, which will negotiate new tariffs for