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FAQ about the negotiating result of the collective bargaining round 2023

This FAQ was compiled by members of the TVStud negotiationg committees of ver.di and GEW in cooperation with union full-timers on the basis of numerous submitted questions. We hope to answer as many as possible under the following areas of focus.

By filling in the form below at the bottom of this page you can submit further questions.

Agreement under the law of obligations vs. collective agreement

Why no collective agreement, but an agreement under the law of obligations?

The agreements on pay and contract terms could, of course, have been regulated in a collective agreement. The reason why this did not happen, despite all political commitments and resolutions, was that all members of the Tarifgemeinschaft deutscher Länder (TdL) voted against a collective agreement. The reason given was that all stakeholders involved (especially the universities) first had to be slowly introduced to a collective agreement. It is obvious that they still wanted to reserve the right to unilaterally determine the working conditions of student employees. With the current wording in the agreement paper, we have taken an important step and got our foot in the door, as it states that the next round of collective bargaining will include among other topics (!) renewed negotiations on pay! In the next round, we will therefore have another opportunity to improve existing regulations, make new ones and, most importantly, reach a collective agreement. The prerequisite is that we continue to organise and build an even stronger strike movement!

What are the differences between this agreement und the law of obligations and a collective bargaining agreement?

A collective agreement is a collective agreement between an employers’ association and trade unions that confers direct and mandatory rights and therefore creates entitlements that can be claimed individually by employees. An agreement under the law of obligations does not have this normative effect. Although claims cannot be made by individuals, they can be enforced by the trade unions. Nevertheless, it is a contract between two parties, i.e. it is much more binding than the previous TdL-internal, i.e. unilateral guideline, as was previously the case, particularly with regard to wages. The TdL is directly bound by the contractual agreement and therefore also the member states and their universities. The TdL must work towards the implementation of the directive. The agreement under the law of obligations applies to all student employees, the agreement on pay applies to student employees without a degree.

What happens when a university or college does not comply with the agreement? What would be the legal steps and who can take them?

It is important to document the violation first. It is sufficient if, for example, the lower hourly wage is noted on a payslip. Ver.di and GEW members can contact their responsible district/union officials. They will then advise on how to proceed.

From when until when is the agreement under the law of obligations valid?

The agreement under the law of obligations comes into force on 1 April 2024, with the regulations on pay and the contract terms coming into force in the summer semester of 2024. For the agreement a term is currently not planned, so is for now not limited in time.

Are we obliged to hold industrial peace (Friedenspflicht)?

No! The prerequisites for strikes before the next round of collective bargaining in the federal states would be a renewed call for negotiations on the one hand and a high level of organisation and willingness to strike on the other. In any case, calls for strike action would have to be issued by one of our relevant trade unions (ver.di and/or GEW).

Can in-house collective agreements be negotiated for student employees?

The parties to collective agreements are trade unions and employers as well as associations of employers such as the TdL. In principle, in-house collective agreements are only possible if the university has employer status. Whether this is the case must be checked locally. This is usually the case for foundation universities, for example. However, it is questionable whether individual universities will go ahead with collective bargaining for student employees as long as the big tanker TdL does not move.

Does the agreement under the law of obligations change anything regarding particpation rights?

No, unfortunately nothing has changed in terms of the staff representation situation for student employees. However, the issue of co-determination becomes even more important, as the staff councils have an important role in the implementation and monitoring of the contractual agreement (see also the section “What next?”).


Are student employees entitled to the inflation compensation payment?

No, only employees explicitly employed under the TV-L or trainees/interns/students on practice-integrated dual study programmes who are covered by the corresponding collective agreements in the federal states receive this. It is always worth checking your own contract with the trade union, as we often work not only in research and teaching (which is the purpose of assistant jobs), but also in libraries, technology or administration, which are actually covered by the TV-L.

What about student employees with a bachelor’s degree?

The agreement sets the hourly wage for student workers with no degree at a minimum of €13.25 from summer semester 2024 and €13.98 from summer semester 2025 (no longer making a difference between East and West Germany). The current TdL guidelines generally set the wage for student employees with a bachelor’s degree at about €1.50-2.00 above those without a degree. It can be assumed that the employers will continue to follow this logic of differentiation.

What about student employees with a master’s degree?

From trade union perspective employing student workers with a master’s degree as student employees means evading collective agreements on the employers’ part rather than employement as academic workers under the TV-L collective agreement. In a number of states (Bundesländer) masters’ graduates can no longer be student employees at all or only to a very limited extent. In the current situation, however, it is to be expected that the TdL guidelines, following their previous logic, will raise the wages for these student employees accordingly (cf. question 2).

What about student employees with Staatsexamen (state examiniation)?

Student workers not enrolled in a bachelor’s or master’s course continue to receive the wage for student employees without a degree until they graduate. The union’s demands to counter this inequality by introducing duration of employment rather than degrees as a basis for the level of wages have been categorically denied by the employers.

What about student employees in externally funded projects?

The minimum wages included in the agreement are to be implemented here as well.

What is the benefit of minimum rather than maximum wages and who determines these?

The change from maximum to minimum hourly wages means that universities and colleges can raise wages and no longer deny higher wages by pointing to the TdL guideline. Wages are not negotiated individually but are decided either on state level or – as in most cases – on the level of the university/institution. So we all collectively need to get the maximum out of this with organised pressure!

Minimum contract terms

What happens if a higher education law contains regulations on the contract term deviating upward or downward?

In Berlin, there is a collectively agreed regulation with the TV Stud III and a statutory regulation in the BerlHG (higher education law in Berlin), which remains in place, so here in particular a minimum contract term of 2 years (4 semesters) applies instead of one year. If a statutory regulation provides for a minimum contract term of more than one year, this applies. If a statutory regulation provides for a shorter contract term or no contract term at all, the minimum contract term agreed between the parties to the collective agreement applies in the federal states or in the universities that are organised via the federal states in the TdL as an employers’ association.

What about contracts signed before 1 April 2024?

The university does not have to adhere to the agreement for contracts that are concluded before the agreement under the law of obligations comes into force (i.e. before 1 April 2024). However, it is free to base the contract on the agreement. If the contract expires and is to be renewed after 1 April 2024, the minimum term of one year applies to the next contract.

What about contracts in externally funded projects?

No provision has been made for this. However, as the minimum term is usually one year and shorter or longer periods can be agreed in justified cases, employment in an externally funded project can, depending on the duration of the project, be a justification for either exceeding or falling short of the intended contract term of one year.

What reasons justify exceeding or falling short of the contract term of one year and who makes the decision?

No further specifications have been made regarding this. As the term “student employee” does not exclude tutors, a respective position is also not a blanket reason for a shorter contract period. In Berlin, the following, for example, are permissible reasons for undercutting the minimum contract term: the work is no longer required (if the project only lasts 8 months, for example), maternity leave or Erasmus replacement.

What options do we have as the TVStud movement to push for the most far-reaching and best possible implementation?

Firstly, we should push for the swift implementation of this regulation at our universities. To do this, it is important to network locally with the staff representatives responsible for us, to discuss the implementation of the regulation and to exchange knowledge. On the other hand, written enquiries within state parliaments/city councils or in bodies of academic self-administration can help to initiate the implementation process. In addition, we should always insist on being part of the committees or working groups in which the implementation of the regulation is discussed.

The negitiations: process and (preliminary) result

What role did the TVStud negotiating committees play at the at the negotiations?

The ver.di and GEW TVStud negotiating committees were made up of 10 or 11 elected, voluntary representatives of the respective TVStud initiatives from the various federal states/regional districts; all are student employees themselves. The negotiating committees met together to collate the strike experience and willingness to take action, but also, for example, the discussions from the individual initiatives on which demands are particularly or less important to the colleagues on the ground. The TVStud negotiating committees decided on the detailed demands and recommended them to the ver.di Federal Public Service Collective Bargaining Commission (BTKöD) for approval, which followed the recommendation in full. In the negotiation rounds, the commissions had an advisory function for the negotiating leadership and the large ver.di negotiating commission; they were also our mouthpiece in the federal collective bargaining commissions of ver.di and GEW (with speaking rights, no voting rights). In the 2nd round of negotiations, two colleagues from the TVStud negotiating commissions were able to stand up for our demands at the negotiating table themselves. In the 3rd round of negotiations, the colleagues on site were informed about the current state of negotiations before and after each new discussion between employers and unions and asked for their assessment.

How did the negotiating and federal collective bargaining committees react to the offer in general and the offer for student employees in particular?

After not presenting an offer for a long time, the employers tried to play off the employees already under the collective agreement against student employees and the wage demand against all expectations (e.g. city state allowance, TVStud, allowance for social and educational services, etc.) over the course of the 3rd round of negotiations. Although we have a low unionisation rate overall and compared to other employee groups, we have received very broad support for our demands in the negotiating and federal collective bargaining committee. This solidarity and the recognition for the movement that we brought to the universities and onto the streets in the collective bargaining round was decisive in ensuring that, contrary to the employers’ total blockade, student employees not only received a (originally even lower and one-sided) wage increase, but also continued to fight for the most binding regulation possible.

Who can take part in the member survey?

From now until 12 January 2024, all ver.di members affected by the collective bargaining round can take part in the member survey and thus let the Federal Collective Bargaining Commission know whether it should accept the provisional agreement paper and negotiation result. Student employees (if they are members of ver.di) can also take part in this survey. To do so, you must contact your responsible union secretary, who will explain the further procedure to you. The GEW is organising open discussion events on the collective agreement in many places.

What about Berlin?

Application in Berlin

TVStud III states: “From 1 July 2023, the hourly pay according to paragraph 1 will change in the event of general pay adjustments in the collective agreement for the public service of the federal states (TV-L) at the same time by the percentage rate by which the table pay in Annex B to the TV-L changes on average. Base, guarantee and minimum amounts are not taken into account when calculating the average.” In any case, this means that from February 2025, our wages will also increase by 5.5%, as for TV-L employees. Things get more complicated with the €200 increase in monthly salary that will be paid to TV-L employees from November 2024. In fact, the provisional agreement paper does not mention a basic amount with regard to this increase, which will affect the pay scale. It is therefore perfectly possible to include this amount in the average calculation. For further information, please contact your trade union secretary.

What have we achieved so far as a movement, and where do we go from here?

What has our movement achieved so far?

As a collective bargaining movement of student employees, we have already reached many milestones since the start of nationwide networking at the end of 2020. The biggest of all is certainly the ever-growing movement itself, which has long since extended beyond the group of assistants and tutors: never before have so many actions (at over 100 locations) and strikes (at more than 80 universities) taken place in a collective bargaining round as in this TV-L round in 2023! Our movement has generated enormous media attention for the working conditions of student employees through our own study “Jung, akademisch, prekär” (Young, academic, precarious”) with over 11,000 respondents and countless local and national actions and has successfully scandalised their precariousness. We were also able to generate broad visibility in (university) politics at university, state and federal level and establish ourselves as an important player against the precarious academic system. These are important cornerstones for the major goal of bringing industrial action to universities in the long term. To date, universities have tended to be an area far removed from trade unions and our industrial action, together with many new organising strategies and instruments, is helping to open up this area as well as contributing to trade union renewal as a whole.

There have also been tangible successes: in Brandenburg, Bremen and Saxony, regulations on minimum contract terms have been enshrined in the state higher education laws, and in Hesse and Brandenburg, student staff representation has been put into law; in many other federal states, there are also struggles for the introduction of minimum contract terms and genuine co-determination structures. Alongside the collective agreement, both are important power resources for democratising and de-precarising the working conditions of student employees. And finally, we have also come closer to the main demand for a collective agreement – despite the employers’ blockade. Because with the contractual agreement and the obligation to negotiate our working conditions again in the next round of collective bargaining, we finally have a foot in the door that needs to be opened further: let’s keep on being the disruptive element to the employers!

What’s next?

We discuss this locally in the initiatives, but above all in the nationwide meetings every second Tuesday, always at 6 p.m. on Zoom. The important thing is that the more people get involved and share their experiences, questions and ideas, the better we can support each other and learn from each other. Among other things, questions were asked about the mental health of activists, dealing with frustration, passing on knowledge and long-term structural development. As members of the ver.di and GEW negotiating committees and creators of this FAQ, we cannot and do not want to answer these questions alone, because after all, we are all TVStud. So let’s talk about it together.

You can ask further questions using the form below.

We ask for your understanding that we cannot guarantee that we will be able to answer all incoming questions in full. It might take some time to process them. If you have urgent or detailed questions, please contact your local GEW or ver.di trade union secretary.