Labor disputes must respect the common good

Strike at the German airport
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Labor disputes must respect the common good

Trade unions have power and thus responsibility – also towards society as a whole. Courts may also soon clarify whether the air traffic strike is still proportionate. Why politics must work here.

Lufthansa canceled almost all flights in Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin on Wednesday. In a time when passengers have to queue for hours anyway and then miss a flight, Verdi’s warning strike feels strange. Everyone talks about the principle of “Corporate Social Responsibility”: The company is committed not only to its owners, not only to its employees, but also to society. But trade unions also have social responsibility. Your shaping power carries with it the shaping responsibility. You have to face it – in everything you do.

This – also legal – requirement can be very specific. The social responsibility of trade unions to society as a whole means that labor disputes should be avoided as much as possible. The Federal Labor Court once said that a strike was a “hard weapon.” This is therefore only permissible if they can be the last resort to reaching a compromise: “Industrial disputes should be given the highest priority of proportionality. Economic circumstances must be taken into account, of course, the common good must not be infringed, ”stated the Federal Labor Court in a fundamental ruling from more than half a century ago. The legitimacy and definition of the common good is a problem that usually arises in the case of legal concepts that require refinement. And yet you cannot avoid a task by simply refusing him. When such a strike creates additional chaos when airports are congested, it is legitimate to ask whether it is against the common good.

In foreign jurisdictions, such a strike may simply be forbidden in the transportation industry, and especially in the aviation sector – the US and France are outstanding examples of this. The possibility of state intervention contributed to the social acceptance of labor disputes in which there was no intervention. But even if one is unwilling to take this drastic step, more attention should be paid to whether such a strike is still proportionate and whether unjustified restrictions can protect the interests of society as a whole.

The question arises as to a possible obligation to attempt arbitration: only when the opponents have gone this path and no agreement can be reached, should we let go of the reins. At the moment, we do not have such legal regulations, even if the jurisprudence has already developed models for this. The professor’s bill regulating employee disputes in public utility services has been available for several years. Politicians are still reluctant to deal with this, contenting themselves with appeals to opponents for moderation.

Courts must develop their own rules based solely on freedom of association in the Basic Law. Anyone who does not want to delegate this difficult task solely to the shoulders of judges will hope that the legislator will take steps to resolve one of these conflicts on its own. If not now then when? The guideline must be the awareness that collective bargaining and the common good are closely related, that they often converge, but in some cases point in different directions. The goal is clear, every step along the way is important.

Prof. Dr. Gregory Thuesing is a lawyer at the University of Bonn and a board member of the Society for Data Security and Data Protection (GDD).

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